Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Fairy Tale to Please: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Remember that moment at the end of Pretty Woman when Richard Gere as the handsome prince asks Julia Roberts as a modern-day Cinderella what happens after the Prince rescues the Princess? “She rescues him right back,” Julia says.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is a contemporary fairy tale with plenty of people in need of rescuing and princes of both genders on hand to save the day when all may live happily ever after--as long as Fate allows. We are mere mortals, you may recall.

Fikry, like Cinderella and so many other fairy tale characters, has lost the person upon whom he depends for happiness and joy. He’s a widower, confined to a business of his wife’s making, a bookstore on an island hard to reach even with a fine boat. He lives alone, unrepentant about being a curmudgeon, occasionally worried about drinking himself to death.

Into Fikry’s life comes Maya, a toddler with thoughts and understanding well beyond her age. She adores books--the smell of them, the images in them, and the feel of them. She adores hearing books read to her, especially the soft voice of empathy that Fikry soon cultivates for her. She, like fairy godmothers and magical creatures in the forest and serendipitous wood cutters in Grimms’ world, saves Fikry from his suffering. He stumbles into sleep without the aid of alcohol and into a new awareness of the deep, universal caring that binds strangers together--all thanks to a little girl in need of parenting.

The police officer who takes Fikry’s report about Maya’s sudden inexplicable presence is also in need of rescuing. He’s divorced and lonesome. Fikry’s sister-in-law, married to a philanderer and quasi-talented writer, needs release from her misery, too. These too stumble and falter, but find each other, each one rescuing the other with forgiveness and selfless understanding.

A quirky bookseller needs a hand up as well. She’s engaged but to a man unsuitable. He’s not a reader, and she is an avid reader, a lover of words, just like Fikry. He needs an adult to love, too. A toddler’s love may restore him to a state of well-being, but the love of a woman enriches his life immeasurably and that of Maya’s.

These characters enjoy a Cinderella ending, one that readers anticipate with smiles on their faces as they read of conflicts, complications, misunderstandings, and denouements. Practiced readers will also enjoy the prelude to every chapter: a short story that ties to the events in Fikry’s life by a thread so delicate that it’s nearly invisible. These stories are Zevin’s device, but they also become a reading list for little Maya as she grows. From them, she will learn much about fiction and people--just as Zevin’s readers do.

Reading Challenge:

Read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. It’s a must!

Writing Challenge:

Choose a short story of which you are especially fond. Recommend it to others in a short essay just as Fikry does for Maya.