Book Reviews and Highlights

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Gabrielle Zevin

  • Family Life
  • Fiction
  • Literary
  • Romance
  • Wife kills husband with frozen leg of lamb, then disposes of the “weapon” by feeding it to the cops.
  • Part I | Page: 4
  • #roald-dahl
  • 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.
  • Part I | Page: 5
  • #first-sentence
  • Amelia the bright- sider believes it is better to be alone than to be with someone who doesn’t share your sensibilities and interests. (It is, right?)
  • Part I | Page: 8
  • ISLAND BOOKS Alice Island’s Exclusive Provider of Fine Literary Content since 1999 No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World
  • Part I | Page: 8
  • #bookstore
  • Amelia knows The Late Bloomer is a small book and that the description sounds more than a little cliché, but she feels sure other people will love it if they give it a chance. In Amelia’s experience, most people’s problems would be solved if they would only give more things a chance.
  • Part I | Page: 12
  • #chance
  • 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 à 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.
  • Part I | Page: 13
  • #book-preferences
  • 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.
  • Part I | Page: 13
  • #book-preferences
  • He takes the plastic tray to the table. The first bite is burning. The second bite is frozen. Papa Bear’s vindaloo and Baby Bear’s vindaloo. He throws the tray against the wall.
  • Part I | Page: 19
  • #vindaloo
  • E. A. Poe defines a short story as readable in a single sitting. I imagine a “single sitting” was longer back in his day. But I digress again.
  • Part I | Page: 28
  • #funny
  • Despite the fact that he loves books and owns a bookstore, A.J. does not particularly care for writers. He finds them to be unkempt, narcissistic, silly, and generally unpleasant people. He tries to avoid meeting the ones who’ve written books he loves for fear that they will ruin their books for him.
  • Part I | Page: 37
  • #authors
  • But me- also- thinks my latter- day reaction speaks to the necessity of encountering stories at precisely the right time in our lives. Remember, Maya: the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life.
  • Part I | Page: 42
  • #life #perspective #aging
  • Lambiase is in the middle of eating a doughnut, an act he tries to hide because the cliché embarrasses him.
  • Part I | Page: 51
  • #funny
  • 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.
  • Part I | Page: 53
  • #female-desc
  • 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.
  • Part I | Page: 53
  • #female-desc
  • She was pretty and smart, which makes her death a tragedy. She was poor and black, which means people say they saw it coming.
  • Part I | Page: 58
  • #female-desc
  • 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 a bulldog— thick- muscled neck, short legs, broad, flat nose. A sturdy American bulldog, not an English one.
  • Part I | Page: 58
  • #male-desc #police-desc
  • He is a reader, and what he believes in is narrative construction.
  • Part I | Page: 59
  • #reader
  • Though he would rather leave such an intimate activity to the state of Massachusetts, A.J. doesn’t want to surrender her to social services looking like a miniature Miss Havisham.
  • Part I | Page: 62
  • #great-expectations #miss-havisham #funny
  • “As a form, the picture book has a similar elegance to the short story. Do you know what I mean, Maya?”
  • Part I | Page: 71
  • #reader
  • Fucking love, he thinks. What a bother. It’s completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin. The most annoying thing about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.
  • Part I | Page: 76
  • #love #alcoholism
  • You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?
  • Part I | Page: 88
  • #reader #book-lover
  • With some accounts, you mention if the book has blurbs, those often hyperbolic endorsements from established writers that appear on the back cover. A.J. is not one of those accounts. At their second or third meeting, he had referred to blurbs as “the blood diamonds of publishing.”
  • Part I | Page: 98
  • #publishing
  • “I’ve been a police officer for twenty years now and I’ll tell you, pretty much every bad thing in life is a result of bad timing, and every good thing is the result of good timing.”
  • Part I | Page: 104
  • #police-officer #life
  • “You think child is enough, but child grows old. You think work is enough, but work is not warm body.”
  • Part I | Page: 110
  • #love #family
  • In the back row sits the woman who hadn’t had a lighter. She wears a floppy gray fedora and a silky maxidress. Her clothes look like they could be from a thrift shop, but Amelia, who actually shops in thrift shops, recognizes them as expensive.
  • Part I | Page: 149
  • #female-desc
  • She has long brown hair, well cut and super straight. Her purse probably costs as much as Amelia’s car.
  • Part I | Page: 150
  • #female-desc
  • “A long time ago, a girl wrote a novel, and she tried to sell it, but no one wanted it. It was about an old man who lost his wife, and it didn’t have supernatural beings in it or a high concept to speak of, and so she thought it would be easier if she retitled the book and called it a memoir.”
  • Part I | Page: 152
  • #memoir
  • What is true? the teaching fellow would ask them. Aren’t memoirs constructions anyway?
  • Part I | Page: 153
  • #memoir
  • “It is the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us,” the passage goes, “but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable. Someday, you do not know when, you will be driving down a road. And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there. You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone.”
  • Part I | Page: 158
  • #love
  • “The Beauties” by Anton Chekhov, “The Doll’s House” by Katherine Mansfield, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger, “Brownies” or “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” both by ZZ Packer, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” by Amy Hempel, “Fat” by Raymond Carver, “Indian Camp” by Ernest Hemingway.
  • Part II | Page: 179
  • #books
  • P.S. The thing I find most promising about your short story is that it shows empathy. Why do people do what they do? This is the hallmark of great writing.
  • Part II | Page: 188
  • #empathy #writing
  • A.J. kisses his daughter on the forehead. He is delighted to have produced such a fantastic nerd.
  • Part II | Page: 198
  • #love
  • After many years of hosting the Chief’s Choice Book Club, Lambiase knows that the most important thing, even more than the title at hand, is food and drink.
  • Part II | Page: 201
  • #funny
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Johnny Got His Gun, A Farewell to Arms, A Prayer for Owen Meany, some years Wuthering Heights, Silas Marner, Their Eyes Were Watching God, or I Capture the Castle. Those books are like old friends.
  • Part II | Page: 205
  • #books #english-class
  • I like when she wears hats to block her fair skin from the sun. I like when she travels and has adventures. I like descriptions of hotels and suitcases with stickers on them. I like descriptions of food and clothes and jewelry. A little romance but not too much. The story is period. No cell phones. No social networking. No Internet at all. Ideally, it’s set in the 1920s or the 1940s. Maybe there’s a war going on, but it’s just a backdrop.
  • Part II | Page: 206
  • #books
  • From his point of view, the only thing worse than a world with big chain bookstores was a world with NO big chain bookstores. At least the big stores sell books and not pharmaceuticals or lumber! At least some of the people who work at those stores have degrees in English literature and know how to read and curate books for people! At least the big stores can sell ten thousand units of publisher’s dreck so that Island gets to sell one hundred units of literary fiction!
  • Part II | Page: 216
  • #bookstores
  • “Mother, do you even understand that that infernal device is not only going to single- handedly destroy my business but, worse than that, send centuries of a vibrant literary culture into what will surely be an unceremonious and rapid decline?” A.J. asks.
  • Part II | Page: 217
  • #e-readers
  • “You can’t put your head in the sand and act like e- readers don’t exist. That’s no way to deal with anything.”
  • Part II | Page: 218
  • #e-readers
  • The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone. My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels.
  • Part II | Page: 249
  • #life #loneliness #love
  • “We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.”
  • Part II | Page: 251
  • #love #life
  • “You tell a kid he doesn’t like to read, and he’ll believe you,” Ismay says.
  • Part II | Page: 254
  • #reading
  • “Mr. Lambiase, have I got a book for you!”
  • Part II | Page: 258
  • #last-sentence
  • Fikry’s the culmination of many, many conversations at publishing lunches and dinners, and ill- to- modestly attended bookstore events, and book conferences in summer.
  • Reader’s Guide | Page: 263
  • #characters
  • There’s a danger in reading, or in any intellectual pursuit, for it to become too solitary and myopic, but I believe a true intellectual has a desire to share, to teach.
  • Reader’s Guide | Page: 264
  • #intellectual
  • Perhaps the physical act of turning pages actually helps a person understand and remember what she reads better.
  • Reader’s Guide | Page: 265
  • #books
  • I think we tell stories to understand the world. All stories— anecdotes, cave paintings, blog posts, book reviews, news articles, songs, poems— are attempts to explain the world to each other and for ourselves.
  • Reader’s Guide | Page: 266
  • #stories #storytelling