August 23, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

One of the summer students at my previous job asked me, over soft-serve cones that we picked up from the ice cream truck on a particularly hot July afternoon, how I was able to plan for my current career, and how she should think about planning her next few years ahead. Never one to turn down the opportunity to dole out some advice—I’m still baffled when people turn to me for advice, particularly in light of the haphazard nature of my life trajectory—I told her that the best way to plan for the future is to not have a plan at all, but instead to prepare herself for the twists and turns that may come.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past thirty-three-and-a-bit years, it’s that nothing really ever goes according to plan, and that a life well-lived is one that embraces that notion of uncertainty.

For the title character of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, nothing really ever has gone according to plan. Mr. Fikry never planned to own a bookstore on a geographically-isolated New England island off the coast, or to have his wife pass away so early in life. He definitely never planned to lose his most prized possession (a early-edition collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe), nor did he plan to find it replaced with another soon-to-be-treasured possession, two-year-old Maya, a book-loving child abandoned by her single mother in a bookstore.

Mr. Fikry’s best friend (and Maya’s soon-to-be-godfather) police chief Lambiase captures the sentiment well when he talks about timing, and how it interferes with any kind of plans we make: I’ve been a police officer for twenty years now and I’ll tell you, pretty much everything bad in life is a result of bad timing, and everything good is the result of good timing.”

Chief Lambiase, who begins the novel seeming like a bit of an oaf, quickly becomes an avid reader and confidant to Mr. Fikry. Amelia Loman, a book rep from publisher Knightsley who is immediately rebuked by Mr. Fikry, ends up finding home in his little bookstore. Timing dictates everyone’s interactions with each other, nothing goes according to plan, and for that, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is much richer.

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