Monday, July 7, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Have you ever read a book that so charmed and enchanted you that you read its every page with a smile on your face? Such was the case for me with this wonderful and unforgettable novel. I smiled with joy, I smiled through laughter, and I smiled through my tears, as this tale’s words worked their magic and wrapped themselves around my heart like a dear friend's warm embrace. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a little book with so much heart, whose every page reminds me why I love to read. "No man is an island; every book is a world." Believe me, visit A.J. Fikry's world as soon as you can, because you won't regret it.

A.J. Fikry is the widowed owner of Island Books, a small bookstore on Alice Island. Embittered by life and loss, A.J. has successfully pushed away all those who care about him - Ismay, his sister-in-law; Ryan, her author husband and A.J.'s best friend, and even Chief Lambiase, with whom A.J. shares the painful memories of the night he lost his beloved wife, Nic. A.J. is lost; his bookstore is struggling, his life is a mess thanks to nights spent drinking himself into oblivion, and he can't move forward - living his life wrapped in memories of the past.

Life has moved on despite his loss, and he gets such a reminder when he meets Amelia Loman, the new sales rep for Knightley Press and the replacement for recently deceased Harvey Rhodes. A.J.'s pain and frustration come to a head on the fateful day of their meeting, and the grumpy and at times acerbic A.J. isn't very kind to the quirky and idealistic young Amelia. If possible, things get even worse for A.J. when the night of their meeting his treasured copy of Tamerlane, a rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, intended to serve as his retirement fund is stolen from his home.

Flummoxed by the theft and consternated by the steady stream of curious Alice Island citizens (aka gawkers) trudging through his door, life and fate (as they are wont to do) throw A.J. a little curveball when he finds an unexpected package in his store when he returns from an evening run. This small in size yet monumental in impact package changes his life forever.

In case I didn’t make it clear enough above, I love this book! It’s a story of love, loss, hope, and redemption. In A.J. Fikry we find the perfect protagonist; one whom like all of us is just a little screwed up. There is an honest humanity and frailty in A.J. that you can’t help but love; he’s loved and lost and like a little hermit crab whose thin skin needs protection from the elements, A.J. has chosen to hide his heart behind a tough external crabby (pardon the pun) shell in order to protect himself from the cruel world that has wrought such suffering on his soul.

Along with a beautiful story that like life itself has ups and downs, joys and tears, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book filled with simple truths. Each chapter in the book is preceded by the title of a short story or a book and a note from A.J. describing what he liked about it and in those words of wisdom he shares universal truths about books but also about life. In one such note, A.J. states "my latter-day reaction speaks to the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives...the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life."

A.J. wisely reminds us all that in reading books we are not isolating ourselves in our own little insular worlds, but instead trying to connect; to find a shared common bond with others, one that binds us and affirms that we are not alone. In A.J.’s world of books, he’s found the perfect definition of our lives “We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories…In the end, we are collected works.”

Words cannot fully express how much I loved this book. The characters (A.J., Amelia, Maya, Chief Lambiase, etc.) became beloved friends that I hated saying goodbye to at the story’s end. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a true gift to readers of all ages and one that I will treasure always.