The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
4 stars - delightful
Poor A.J. Fikry. He's a mess. The owner of the only bookstore on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, A.J. has retreated into the world of books completely. He doesn't much care for customers, he only buys books he likes (i.e. none of that popular crap) and most evenings he drinks himself into oblivion.
Sure things were better before. Before his wife was killed in a car accident, leaving him alone to nurture his less savory character traits.
Thus we find our hero. Then, a package is left for him at the bookstore. An unexpected package with no return address that compels him to shake off his malaise and begin, ever so slowly, to move himself slowly forward into the land of the living.
This is a wonderful little volume which centers around Island Books and the transformative power of books. Well, what's not to like?
Interspersed between the chapters are A.J.'s reviews of books, novellas, and short stories. I particularly enjoyed this one.
The Luck of Roaring Camp
1868 / Bret Harte
Overly sentimental tale of a mining camp that adopts an "Ingin baby" whom they dub Luck. I read it for the first time at Princeton in a seminar called the Literature of the American West and was not moved in the least. In my response paper (dated November 14, 1992), the only thing I found to recommend it were the colorful character names: Stumpy, Kentuck, French Pete, Cherokee Sal, etc. I chanced upon "The Luck of the Roaring Camp" again a couple of years ago and I cried so much you'll find that my Dover Thrift Edition is waterlogged. Methinks I have grown soft in my middle age. But me-also-thinks my latter-day reaction speaks to the necessity of encountering stories at the precisely 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.
Please don't get the notion that the book itself is overly sentimental. It isn't. It's rich, touching, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad. It made me want to move to the fictitious Island of Alice and join one of the Island Books book clubs.