It's official: I could get swoony reading Gabrielle Zevin's grocery lists*. I just freakin love her. I adored Margarettown, with its weird jumpy structure and hurts-so-good pathos, and while I think this book isn't quite the achievement that Margarettown is, it's still quirky and sweet and clever and a little sad and everything I'd want my own book to be if I ever had the balls to write one.
The endearingly crotchety A.J. Fikry, Zevin's main character, is a bookstore owner with persnickety tastes. His wife has died, and A.J. is not coping well. Mostly, he stays in his apartment above the bookstore and drinks too much wine. However, the twists and turns of his life don't allow him to sink into total isolation. He meets a book sales rep named Amelia, a big blowzy woman who favors vintage clothing. He helps the local police chief start a book club, and the two become unlikely friends. Oh—and he finds a two-year-old girl abandoned in his shop with only a diaper bag and a note. The plot may be contrived, and I can admit it's a little too pat in places, but it's not the real draw here anyway.
Zevin has basically written a love letter to books, a treasure hunt for literature lovers. The book is littered with literary references, everything from children's picture books to Proust. A.J. has lived a life informed and embraced by words, a life that is made richer by way of reading. That resonated with me like a gong.
My one beef with the book, and I haven't decided if it's legitimate or not, is that the central situation mirrors Margarettown awfully closely. If you've read Margarettown, the blurbs about short stories at the beginning of each chapter will make you (rightfully) suspicious. I think Zevin could have taken the ending in a different direction and had a more satisfying and original work.
Still, I love the themes Zevin chooses to work with, and I love that in her world, family is whomever you choose to love. She's generous with second chances. And she obviously loves reading. As far as I'm concerned, that's a formula for good writing.
I flew through this book—it felt like a blazing fast read. However, my judgment might be somewhat clouded, because I spent the week prior reading Gone With the Wind for my book club. I really don't want to talk about it—and you know what that means. (Click here for why I don't write about books I don't like.) Here's to moving on—to a more enlightened period in our nation's history, and to books that don't make us homicidal with rage. Cheers!
*Today's helping of humble pie: Just days after reading this article on unconscious plagiarism, I discovered I inadvertently borrowed this line from, of all places, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. This bums me out more than I can say. Mea culpa.