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“The Storied Life of A. J. Frikry” is Gabrielle Zevin’s third novel for adults. The events in this engaging story take place over a 15-year period with an independent bookstore as a central setting. However, the story is not so much about books but about what people can do for each other.
The 39 year-old protagonist, A.J., is grieving over the loss of his wife, Nicole. Together, they owned a bookstore on Alice Island; however, the store is not doing well. At this point in his life, A.J. is lonesome, angry and isolated. Everything annoys him, even his closest friends, and he drinks to escape everything. Two discoveries, however, change his life in different ways. One is the theft of his extremely valuable copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tamerlane.” The second is his discovery of Maya, a toddler who has been abandoned in the children’s section of his store, with a note from her single mother. A.J. discovers soon after that the child’s mother has drowned herself in the sea. He cannot think of leaving Maya to the system, and his life gradually changes as he cares for this child.
His well-meaning sister-in-law, Ismay Parrish, begins to seem less of a pest. Chief Lambiase, the local police officer, might even become a friend. And the tall, gangly book rep Amelia Loman, from Knightly Press, is someone he begins looking forward to seeing. He and Amelia have a grand time discussing books, and they both think the way to get to know other people is to ask them what book they are reading.
Books are an integral part of A.J.’s life. If he wants to give someone advice, he recommends a short story. If he is sad, he reads. If he is happy, he reads. In the end he thinks he has figured it all out: “We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.”
The author writes with perception about a life lived around books in a world where chain stores and the Internet and e-readers have taken a toll on independent bookstores – once the heart of America. “The Storied Life of A.J. Frikry” is funny and poignant. It is a portrait of a family and a community brought together around a bookstore. It is a beautiful morsel, thought-provoking and packed with insights. With humor and sadness, the author writes a touching story of how A.J. rebuilds his life.
Ms. Zevin writes, “We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”