This novel was, apparently, a New York Times bestseller. I don’t recall reading any reviews of it, but I’m guessing it was a big hit with folks looking for something easy to take to the beach or on long plane rides. The funny thing is, it’s exactly the type of book the main character hates.
AJ Fikry is an over-educated 40-ish widower who owns a bookstore on Alice Island, which is near Nantucket. He is grumpy and has very exacting tastes in literature, preferring short stories to novels, hating young adult and kids lit, but begrudgingly stocking some in his store. Naturally, the store struggles, as all book stores do these days. AJ expects to retire one day and live from the wealth that he will accrue from auctioning off his prized first-edition “Tamerlane,” by Edgar Allen Poe. He is a bit of an alien on Alice Island. Everyone knows him but few are friends with him. He moved there because his first wife Nic was a native and had suggested they leave academia to live there and do what they love. Nic dies young and tragically, AJ retreats further from life, and has seizures, until the day his precious Tamerlane is stolen. Shortly thereafter, a two-year-old girl is abandoned in his store with a note for him to care for her. His whole life changes for the better. We meet a lot of colorful local characters and learn some dark secrets.
Does this sound familiar? It should if you ever read George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Zevin wasn’t just inspired by the classic novel, she copied it plot point by plot point, from beginning to end. To some, imitation might be a sincere form of flattery but as far as I’m concerned it’s just damned laziness. I suppose what sets Zevin’s novel apart is that it’s so “literary.” She clearly wants to create an homage to book stores and real print books (not those horrid, soul-crushing e-readers!) and great writers. Each chapter is introduced with the title of a short story that AJ loves and a short blurb that he has written to Maya with his musings on the story. It’s cute at first and then just maudlin, which is a good overall description of the book. It really does read like a Lifetime Network movie script. AJ’s potential love interest is the new sales rep from Knightley Press, Amelia Loman. She likes to paint her fingernails unusual colors and
She had looked like a time traveler from 1990s Seattle with her anchor-printed galoshes and her floral grandma dress and fuzzy beige sweater….
Oh, she’s quirky! Totes adorbs! Zooey Deschanel should play her! But wait, there’s more:
In Amelia’s experience, most people’s problems would be solved if they would only give more things a chance.
Wow. Let’s just sit and ponder that deep thought.
I found this book annoying. The author took a brilliant novelist’s work, removed any meaningful insight into human nature/redemption, added some blather-y window dressing about books/writers/reading, and turned it into a rom-com. Go read the original instead.