This is a modern retelling of George Eliot’s Silas Marner, but I’ve never read that book, so this review will have nothing do with it. For your purposes (if you, like me, have also never read Silas Marner), this is a book for people who love books. (So, everyone on this website.) Of course, some of your tastes will bounce right off it, but you’re definitely all the intended audience. Being people. Who read.
A.J. Fikry is a widower who owns a bookshop on a small island in the northeast. He is very unhappy. Then one night, someone leaves a baby in his bookshop, and he decides to keep her.
I can hear you shouting already, OH NO NOT THE SCHMALTZ AND THE CLOYING SENTIMENT. But no, this isn’t like that. I hate that kind of book. This book is very aware of itself, almost meta, and takes great pains not to become a treacly mess. It’s actually a very funny book, when it’s not being slyly poignant, but also, it does purposefully tug on some heartstrings, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, just skedaddle on away from this review. It only got to me BECAUSE it was trying not to. If that makes any sense?
I almost feel like I need to re-read this right away, because there were so many “easter eggs” hidden in here referencing other books, and foreshadowing the story itself; I know I must have missed as many as I caught. I also think it would be fun to actually read Silas Marner and compare the two and see why Zevin changed what she did, and what she was trying to emphasize in her version. The original certainly wasn’t devoted to a love of reading.
So to sum up, this book worked on me perfectly, and I have fallen for its tricks as I was meant to, and you probably will too, if you give it a shot. (You most likely already have, because it was published a while back and I’m late to the party, as usual.) Will definitely be re-reading, and will need to own my own copy for marking up.
Quotes, just because:
“As she steps off the ferry, her phone rings. She doesn’t recognize the number—none of her friends use their phones as phones anymore. Still, she is glad for the diversion and she doesn’t want to become the kind of person who thinks that good news can only come from calls one was already expecting and callers once already knows.”
“In Amelia’s experience, most people’s problems would be solved if they would only give more things a chance.”
“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.”
“Friedman gets at something specific about what it is to lose someone. How it isn’t one thing. He writes about how you lose and lose and lose.”
“Maya has chosen to be the ring bearer because the job has more responsibility than flower girl. ‘If you lose a flower, you get another flower,’ Maya reasons. ‘If you lose the ring, everyone is sad forever. The ring bearer has much more power.’
‘You sound like Gollum,’ A.J. says.
‘Who’s Gollum?’ Maya wants to know.
‘Someone very nerdy that your father likes,’ Amelia says.”
“If something is good and universally acknowledged to be so, this is not reason enough to dislike it.”
“A.J. kisses his daughter on the forehead. He is delighted to have produced such a fantastic nerd.”
“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.”
“Why is any one book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again.”
“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 alone.
My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.
We are not quite novels.
The analogy he is looking for is almost there.
We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works.”
“Maya, we are what we love. We are that we love.”