Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin




ARC provided by Algonquin Books through Netgalley

I am constantly saying this, but with this story I think I've hit the jackpot:

This is the most difficult book I've ever had to review. 
(badly, some of you will probably say)

Conceptually speaking, this is a five star rating. This is truly a book about bookworms, and for bookworms.
I'm a certified bookworm. So why the three star rating?

In the wise words of the "main character", A.J. Fikry _and, not forgetting that this is an ARC, I'm going to re-use his words (not to a book contest) to say what reviewing means in part to me:
“These things are never fair. People like what they like, and that’s the great and terrible thing. It’s about personal taste and a certain set of people on a certain day." (A.J. Fikry)
I like to think that every review that I've wrote is fair, but tastes change, people grow up, and honestly these days I am a little afraid of re-reading books that I used to love back in my twenties.

The positive:
All through the text it feels as if we're on a "book hunt", lol, for instance, the person who gets the most "literary quotes and tidbits" that the author gives us "scattered" through the text , wins at the end... what?
Maybe the satisfaction of knowing how well read, she or he is.
It was cute, and very well done, and it warmed my cold bookish heart! lol
Well, at least the ones I recognized! *wink*

I particularly liked the part where a customer returns a book that she read, The Book Thief, because it made her sad, and kept her up all night long reading it! A.J. should have known better than that, she says!
She is old, and he recommends to her a book about Death? What was he thinking???

However _ and keeping in mind that this is called: "The storied life..." _ I can't help feeling that the way the story is told: A literary novel in chick lit clothes... made it lose some of its strength. The junction of the two genres was at times clash-inducing.

However the part that really didn't work out for me, was the beginning, and the narrator's voice:
"On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes. “Island Books, approximately $350,000.00 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holiday,” Harvey Rhodes reports. (..)By the time her nails have hardened, her relentlessly bright- sided nature has kicked in: Of course it’s worth it! Her specialty is persnickety little bookstores and the particular breed that runs them. Her talents also include multitasking,
selecting the right wine at dinner (and the coordinating skill, tending friends who’ve had too much to drink), houseplants, strays, and other lost causes."
However, after awhile it does get better...
Or maybe I just got myself used to it...

The story started advancing, and, after awhile of reading it, I started feeling that I was watching some sort of stand up comedy for the nerd, or intellectual in all of us.
And yes, despite that it was well done, at the same time, this writing style created a form of distanced communication between the story and the reader. Well, it did for me.

The characters in this novel, as "storied" as they should be, feel like stereotyped clichés. And maybe that was the author's intention, but _and as accurate as this novel can be in all bookworm things_ I'm afraid it forgot one  crucial aspect of reading: The passion it creates amongst most of us!
Hey! There's people among us who prefer to buy books to buying clothes, shoes and even purses!! 
It's a serious DEAL!

And when it comes to that aspect, this story gets a negative. It forgot that reading should also be about fun, about getting oneself immersed in some random story!
Reading is _or should be _ mostly about connecting with a story and its characters. And I'm afraid that they were too undeveloped to achieve that goal.

I agree, however with one of its messages, that each book has its own proper timeline to be read and appreciated.
Who knows? Maybe a couple of years from now I will love it.

Then there's the drama department... which _I'm sorry to say _ was used and abused, especially in the last part. Also it was way too cheesy when it came to the baby's (precocious) pov.  It was too much.

The romance was done in a very strange and disconnected way: A.J never paid the slightest attention to Amelia, and then suddenly all it took was a very positive book recommendation (that had been done 4 years ago!), and there you have it: He's inviting her on a date - disguised as a book meeting deal. It was too predictable, and not all that romantic.

Also I can't help pointing out how STRONGLY I dislike every-time something is justified with the adagio: Oh, but everything turned out wonderfully... or beautifully...!

This is the reader in me speaking, because obviously one doesn't have to like the characters to appreciate a story... but I hated the justification that in the end all was forgiven because Maya ended up having a wonderful life. I hated that particular dialogue. (Yes, this was the part in which I would act all Bradley Cooper on the god-damn book... well, if I wasn't reading this on the computer).

Truth is, the girl's life would have been wonderful with her mother in it. Period. 

After an unexpected revelation things went downhill for me.
Also _and I know this is ironic _ if I read books about people with cancer, I like to know in advance _Like I said, I know it's ironic, and partly the reason why I read fantasy. 

I am not one of the millions enthusiasts about "The Fault in our Whatever". In fact, I haven't even read it, and I'm not interested in doing so. I even took a long pause in reading Alice Hoffman's (who is one of my favourite writers) books because, up until some books ago, it seemed as if all the author's books had characters who would die with cancer.

Having lost family members to that illness, I don't like to see it "acted" out on paper, or tv.
Thing is, there's nothing to romanticize about it, and also it shouldn't be used as a way to create drama and fill some pages. I know I'm being unreasonable. If it happens in real life, why can't it happen in books?

But as you can read, this is not something I can be impartial about, and for that I am sorry.
But in the end, why was it used? To show that booksellers are dispensable, because there will be always another one? To show that what matters are the stories, and the books?
The way the story ended, didn't impress me.
In fact, it just confirmed  the novel's somewhat dehumanization: The end of a life circle. Let's start a new one:
Books are the only thing that matter.



Buy "The storied Life of A. J. Fikry"

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