Overhype Syndrome claims ‘A.J. Fikry’

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin Books, 2014)

A.J. Fikry is in his late 30s, owner of a bookstore on an island that sounds similar to Martha’s Vineyard. He’s grumpy and bitter, partly because he’s a grumpy bitter person and partly because he is mourning the loss of his young wife just a couple of years earlier. So when publishing sales rep Amelia stops by the bookstore to try to sell him some books, he is startlingly rude to her and sends her on her way. Readers won’t want to spend much time with guy unless he changes his ways quick, and fortunately a plot device baby is abandoned in the bookstore to provide the catalyst he needs.

I may have been suffering a bit from Overhype Syndrome when I read this one. I can see why so many readers loved it, with its charming bookstore setting and its reverent attitude toward books. But I found the characters fairly undeveloped, to the extent that the bit I think was supposed to be a big emotional climax left me fairly unmoved. I also found the timeline to be a bit screwy, as the story unfolds over about 17 years. The stated lengths of time that were meant to have passed between certain events seem virtually impossible given the ages of the people involved at various points along the way.

Between each chapter the narrative is put on hold while we read an analysis of a short story. It’s clear that these are A.J.’s reviews of stories that he considers essential reading, but we learn only slowly who he’s writing them for and why. Many of the stories were familiar to me, but a few were not and I’m looking forward to checking those out. Regardless of my feelings about the rest of the book, I’m always happy to add to my already too-long to-be-read list.

I never expected that anything but time would help me get over my bitterness at losing this book in the Booktopia Boulder Yankee Swap, but now that I’ve read it I’m glad it went to someone else who with any luck will feel the same rapture so many of you did. That I didn’t is my loss, clearly.