The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
**** (4 stars)
Available in National Book Store
I'm currently obsessed with this book—everything about it makes sense to a book hoarder/critic/lover such as myself. I spent a day reading passages from this novel to Aurelio because it resonated with me so much. Though there are some loopholes in the plot, the prose and dialogue are spot-on. The language is beautiful, it glides well even if the descriptions are concise. Here is an author with an ear for the English language.
Here are some gems:
On the books that Mr. Fikry don't like
"Like," he repeats with distaste. "How about I tell you what I don't like? I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn't be—basically gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mash-ups a la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy. Literary should be literary, and genre should be genre, and crossbreeding rarely results in anything satisfying. I do not like children's books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying—vampires. I rarely stock debuts, chick lit, poetry, or translations. I would prefer not to stock series, but the demands of my pocketbook require me to. For your part, you needn't tell me about the 'next big series' until it is ensconced on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Above all, Ms. Loman, I find slim literary memoirs about little old men whose little old wives have died from cancer to be absolutely intolerable. No matter how well written the sales rep claims they are. No matter hw many copies you promise I'll sell on Mother's Day."
On Infinite Jest:
"Inifinite Jest is an endurance contest. You manage to get through it and you have no choice but to say you like it. Otherwise, you have to deal with the fact that you just wasted weeks of your life."
On his wife's death and Raymond Carver:
"If this were a Raymond Carver, you'd offer me some meager comfort and darkness would set in and all this would be over. But this... is a feeling more like a novel to me after all. Emotionally, I mean. It will take me a while to get through it. Do you know?"
On losing his copy of Edgar Allan Poe's first edition of Tamerlane
"Someone stole Tamerlane," A.J. says.
"It's a book. It's a very valuable book."
"To clarify. You mean someone shoplifted a book from the store."
"No. It was my book from my personal collection. It is an extremely rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe."
"So, it's like, your favorite book?" Lambiase asks.
"No. I don't even like it. It's crap, it's jejune crap. It's..." A.J. is hyperventilating. "Fuck."
"Calm down, Mr. Fikry. I'm trying to understand. You don't like the book, but it has sentimental value?"
"No! Fuck sentimental value. It has great financial value. Tamerlane is like the Honus Wagner of rare books! You know what I'm saying?"
On what to feed a baby
"By the time the arrive at the apartment, Maya is full-on crying, a sound somewhere between a New Year's Eve party horn and a fire alarm. A.J. deduces that she is hungry, but he has no clue what to feed a twenty-five-month-old. He pulls her lip to see if she has teeth. She does and she uses them to try to bite him. He Googles the questions: "What do I feed a twenty-five-month-old?" and the answer that comes back is that most of them should e able to eat what their parents eat. What Google does not know is that most of what A.J. eats is disgusting. His fridge contains a variety of frozen foods, many of them spicy. He calls his sister-in-law Ismay for help.
On his sister-in-law
A.J. nods, though he thinks the real cause is that his sister-in-law frightens the baby. Ismay has stylishly cut, spiky red hair, pale skin and eyes, long, spindly limbs. All her features are a little too large, her gestures a little too animated. Pregnant, she is like a very pretty Gollum. Even her voice might be off-putting to a baby. It is precise, theater-trained, always pitched to fill the room. In the fifteen or so years he has known her, A.J. thinks Ismay has aged like an actress should: from Juliet to Ophelia to Gertrude to Hecate.
On Lambiase's ex wife
Lambiase is recently divorced. He had married his high school sweetheart, so it took him a long time to realize that she was not, in fact, a sweetheart, or a very nice person at all. In arguments, she was fond of calling him stupid and fat. He is not stupid, by the way, though he is neither well read nor well traveled. He is not fat, though he is built like bulldog—thick-muscled neck, short legs, broad, flat nose. A sturdy American bulldog, not an English one.