The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin
A.J. Firky runs a bookstore on tiny Alice Island. When Amelia Loman, representative for Knightley Press, first meets him he is angry and rude, swearing at her and making her cry. And he's drinking himself into oblivion over the loss of his wife, Nicole.
Then two things occur. First, he is the victim of a robbery in which he loses a valuable old book that was meant to be his future security, then a two year old girl is left unattended in his bookstore with a note asking A.J. to raise her. He accepts his misfortune in losing the rare book and, surprising even himself, he also accepts guardianship of the 2 year old, Maya. In time, his relationship with Amelia Loman develops and also his friendship with book-loving local Chief of Police Lambiase, A.J. stops the drinking and takes up living again.
Each chapter begins with a book or short story title and a few comments on how it pertains to A.J.'s relationship with Maya. These are all notes written to Maya later when he becomes ill and verbal communication is no longer easy.
I'm trying to find words to say how much I loved this book and what, specifically, I loved about it. Why is it always so much easier to write about the books I don't like? I have no trouble putting into words the specific things I don't like in a book. I seem to be able to articulate their faults quite easily and I can get rather passionate about how they could/should have been improved. Yet here I am with a book I love, and all I have are these vague thoughts about how good it is. It makes me furious.
Wait. There is one definite thing I can say about it. While I read it, I was also reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I have an issue with Russian classical literature that I've talked about before, and this book was an absolute relief to pick up after a couple of chapters of that. The Russian characters are up and down like mercury in a thermometer - the term "overwrought" was made for them. After a few pages I'd be wanting to throw the book across the room, and then I'd pick this one up and read about A.J. and Maya and the others, who had their share of problems, but didn't go on and on and on about them. They suffer like everyone else, but they do it without flailing emotionally. They don't fling their feelings around until they're practically bouncing off the walls. I love the quiet style of Gabrielle Zevin's writing. It's an emotional book, but not emotionally draining. It's emotionally energizing.
I also like the way the characters are put together. They are fleshed out with virtues and flaws. They make mistakes and then move on and live their lives in the best way they know how. They are realistic, and that makes them inspiring. I feel as though Zevin invited us into their heads and their hearts and gave us a reason to care about them. I'd like to have these people as neighbours. Maybe if I spend more time getting to know people, I'll find out I do. How many books can do that for an introvert?
The blurb on the front of the dust jacket calls it a "wonderful, moving, endearing story". It is all of those things, but what it is not is mushy or sappy. The story is told in a way that lets you, the reader, decide how emotionally involved you want to be, rather than wringing the emotion out of you. That alone is reason to buy it and read it. I'm not against e-readers (I use one myself for night-time reading) but for this book, get a paper copy. You'll want to hold it in your hands as you ponder the changes happening to A.J. and his friends and family. You'll want to feel and smell the paper as you immerse yourself in this story of book-lovers.
This book falls into a category of books I love but don't know what to call. They must well written, that's a deal-breaker, with credible characters and plots about quiet lives, well lived. Others that fit into that category are The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, The Unexpected Journey of Harold Fry, and Gilead. They are all somehow comfortable, and comforting, books, but they also leave me wanting to be better, to do better in some way. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is another one. I wish I could find a thousand more.
It seems I did find a few things to say other than I Love It. I hope you'll read it, and I hope it will encourage you too. I'd like to hear your response to it so please take a minute to come back and add a comment.
Thanks, and may all your books this week be enjoyable.