Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not my kind of story

I was prepared to like this book. Even thought that it would end up as a favorite. It has all the things that a bibliophile can relate to—collecting rare books, running a bookstore, having a partner who's also into books, being a part of a book club. But at the final page, Gabrielle Zevin's novel, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, just didn't deliver.

Maybe because it touched on a whole lot of things, that the result is just several story lines spread too thinly. It's like biting into a supposedly dense cheesecake but what you really feel is a light chiffon cake. Or just plain air. Perhaps the flaws lie on the themes? They're just all over the place.

Anyway, there's really nothing new about this novel. A. J. Fikry, a recent widower, runs a bookstore in a small island. He's grumpy as hell, and one fat ass book snob. Then one day his rare copy of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane gets stolen. Then he adopts a precocious baby that's left on his doorstep, who becomes instrumental in changing his dark demeanor.

It would've been more palatable if the novel focused on the story between Fikry and his adopted daughter. But no, there has to be romance and mystery. Fikry eventually marries a book agent, who helps him run his bookstore. And the mystery of the stolen Tamerlane has to be solved, albeit in a most unimaginative manner. Along the way, you meet a host of other characters: the detective who runs a book club, Fikry's sister-in-law, Fikry's sister-in-law's philandering husband, to name a few.

If the other characters in the novel remain unnamed in this blog entry, it's because they're so cookie cutter figures; I've forgotten their names. Even Fikry was someone I couldn't relate to, much as I tried.

The whole novel reeks of Hallmark. You know those movies when everything just works out cleanly in the end? The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is that. It's so clean and wholesome that it feels antiseptic. Where's the conflict? Where's the dilemma that the characters have to face? Where are the destestable villains? Unfortunately, there are none. And that's why Zevin's novel is one such work that feels hollow.

I'm not going to say that this is a terrible book. But it's a cliche. The grinch becomes lovable. The philandering character dies in a car crash. The dying bookstore gets a second life in the hands of its patrons. Money magically appears. I. Die. Of. Sugar.

Read this book if:
  1. You have nothing else to do.
  2. You love books about books.
  3. Oh, don't bother.


Kaz said...

I enjoyed this book - maybe because it was undemanding at a time when that's what I needed. I agree that it was a bit 'surface', but there was just enough quirkiness for me to keep wanting to turn the pages til the end!

Anonymous said...

It's one of those books that disappoint you big time because you are so prepared to like it, noh? As for me, I liked it enough. I was in high spirits the whole month so most of the things I read felt nice. I would have reacted more viciously had I been in a foul mood.

(I also couldn't remember the names. If Fikry's name wasn't in the title, I would have forgotten it as well.)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Kaz! Yes, I completely agree with you. It did feel that you had to keep the pages turning to figure out how everything will tie up together.

Hi, Angus! See you again soon!

Lynai said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the book basically because of the references to short stories which I am also exploring at the moment. But I must say that I was disappointed with the ending. It was something that really sorely stuck out.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Lynai! Yeah, the ending was a bit too hard to swallow. It was so convenient!

Ryan said...

I think I'll still read this at some point in time, but not sure I'll rush out to get it.