The Storied Life of A.J. Fiery – Gabrielle Zevin (Review)
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” by Gabrielle Zevin,is the story of man who thought there was nothing else left for him in the world and through one event learns otherwise. A.J. has always defined his life by books and the stories he reads. He uses books as his lens to view the world. He judges those by the books they enjoy and he is critical of everything that he reads. He owns a bookstore and in the beginning of the story it seems like he has trapped himself inside his store. He doesn’t make it the most welcoming place. Until a child is left inside the store and he is forced to opened the store and himself to the world around him. Once he opens himself he makes the store a more welcoming place. Slowly the bookstore allows him to connect with a number of people and to bring himself back to life. He goes from a cold and bitter widower to a content, happy father, husband and member of the community.
At the beginning of the novel A.J. has recently lost his wife in a car accident. He has closed himself off from the rest of the world and the community. He owns a bookstore and it is his only way of connecting to the world anymore. But we see that he is cold and not easy to talk to. Amelia comes to his store to pitch her publisher’s most recent book list and A.J. turns down every one of them. He has an excuse for why he doesn’t like every single book she suggests. He is critical of his literary choices, believing little that is published can be considered literary and decent. He is someone who spends his life around books everyday but at the beginning of the novel it seems like he hates most of what he has to sell.
Then a young child is left at his store and he instantly feels a connection to the baby. He adopts her and she begins to open him back up. He closed himself off when he lost his first wife. But Maya makes him realize that there is so much more to the world that is around him. One of my favorite parts is that when he first adopts Maya he is intent on trying to make her act like a grownup. He states frequently that he can’t stand Elmo but it is not long before he changes his mind about the little red monster. He states “The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything,” (76).
A.J. does start giving a shit about everything. He doesn’t just open himself up to stories and muppets for Maya but he also opens himself up to the rest of the community. People start showing up more at his store at first to check on Maya but ultimately find it a place where they can feel they belong. A.J. lets them into his store and ultimately his life. The town sets up a number of book clubs ranging from one for cops to one for mothers. Children come to the store and read. A.J. has to open up his tastes and his selection to begin to accommodate the new clientele.
In the beginning of the novel A.J. makes the bookstore seems like an intimidating place. He stocks only what he likes, he stocks only what he himself can sell and he rejects almost everything else. This makes his store limiting and uninviting. But once Maya comes into his life and shows him what can happen when you open yourself up a little, his life and store change. He realizes that books are not meant to be just for him to enjoy. He realizes that he has a special place on his hands. A store where the community can come and gather around. He learns that books can be a unifying force. They have always helped him define the world and he begins to help others learn that joy as well. A.J. starts the novel as a man very few people knew or cared about. By the end his store is a place that the town revolves around and A.J. himself is someone people enjoy being around.
I enjoyed this novel because of the way it shows how important stories can be for one life. Books don’t just provide an escape for us to another world. Books can helps us be able to understand and interact with those around us. We can join book clubs and find a place to belong. There is so much that a few books can do and this novel tell portrays that power. The story will make you laugh and cry as you watch this man learn how to live again.