Let it not be said that I did not enjoy Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I did enjoy it. In fact, I only write reviews if I hate or love a book, and I very much hated and loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.
The characters are masterfully handled; they are compelling and clearly drawn. Fikry’s interactions with baby Maya are both charming and touching, and indeed, it needed his willingness with her to redeem an otherwise acerbic, disheveled, and dislikable character. These touching points, in their various expressions, are what make the book worthwhile. They are what bring it to life. And yet—
What if that first edition of E.A. Poe’s Tamerlane had never been found?
Somewhere two-thirds to three-fourths into her narrative, Zevin precedes the retrieval of Tamerlane with a mild upset in Lambiase’s book club. The upset involves a discussion of loose plot ends, and whether or not a satisfying read should answer all the reader’s questions. Fikry defies loose ends, that is certain, and perhaps that’s its greatest flaw.
That fateful night when Tamerlane is stolen, when A.J. drinks himself to a swoon and imagines his wife visits him—what if she had?
The finding of Tamerlane is not, in and of itself, my complaint. Its discovery is quite clever. But it was all too fateful in a book where one of our main protagonists, A.J. himself, both “doesn’t believe in random acts” and “[doesn’t] believe in fate.”
The point of the book is, perhaps—if points can ever be point-blank ascribed to books—to follow the life of a not likable yet likable man who is in some part qualified and redeemed by his love for books. It is a worthwhile read, more than worthwhile. My one criticism is that The Storied Life is too conscious that it is indeed, a story. It does not exist apart from letters.
But now we can lay the blame on myself. Did I want the book to be supernatural, perhaps religious? Not at all. It is Zevin herself who calls religion to play in linking a bookstore with a church. If I am going to link a bookstore with more than books, the book itself must give me something more than the pleasure of words. Tamerlane needed to be found, but surely Poe himself would have asked at least for a ghost.