Book Review: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry

Sunday, 22 June 2014 - 6:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
A simple story simply told, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry is sad and funny, fiction but so true to life. This one is a book to keep, says Anam Rizvi

Book: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publishing House: Little, Brown
Cost: Rs350, 243 pages

"Maya, we are what we love. We are that we love...We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on."

That's A.J. Fikry talking to his daughter, his words capturing so much of what the novel is about. A novel, novella or a tribute to short stories over the years... which description best fits this piece of work? Maybe a bit of all.

Precise in construction, quiet in its style, harmonious in its narration and fulfilling in its impact, The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry has earned its place in The New York Times Bestseller list. Penned by Harvard graduate, Gabrielle Zevin, the book meanders into the various hues of love and life.

A baby is deposited at a lone bookstore on an island in the hands of its angry and unwelcoming owner, A.J. Fikry. Maya, the baby, coos and giggles her way into AJ's heart. There are no earth-shattering twists in this plot. None are needed. The Collected Works... is a simple story told simply, sans pretence, elaborate gestures, style or structures. Set in a quiet island, where Fikry runs the only bookstore, Zevin explores how relationships are made and broken, repaired and crushed as death and life spare no one.

Daniel, a writer who made it big with his first novel, cheats on his wife Ismay. Fikry who moved to the island to start a bookstore with his wife, loses her in a motor accident. Maya the orphan finds love in unexpected places and from unexpected people. The writer does not judge the characters or their actions. She shows and tells. She makes her characters breathing, living people. The Collected Works... is a book the reader misses after finishing it.

A litterateur will find literary references to guffaw at, a layperson will enjoy Maya's presence in the book and the chick-lit aficionado can indulge in the romance (you knew it all along) between AJ and Amy. In short, there is something for everyone in this 243-page novel. Adorable two-year old Maya brightens up one's day when she says 'love you' to AJ. The gruff 39-year-old struggles to take care of a baby, something he has no experience in. The descriptions are hilarious not ludicrous as seen in various films over the years.

Following a circular narrative structure, the novel gifts to its readers many awww moments as Maya and her father bond. Nothing is unimportant in this story; Zevin ties all the loose ends impeccably leaving the reader content. A hint of a suggestion here, an inkling there all make sense in the end.

The Collected Works... is Zevin's eighth novel. The author has forayed into various genres in the past, including screenplays and fiction for young adults. The melange of influences and the obvious love for the format of the short story come through in this venture. Roald Dahl's Lamb To The Slaughter, F Scott Fitzgerald's The Diamond As Big As The Ritz and Flannery O'Connor's A Good man Is Hard To Find are some of the stories that find mention in this book. Readers are sure to be tempted to include each of these classics in their reading lists.

Reflections, memories and ideologies are introduced into The Collected Works.... Though it deals with very real situations, it is not maudlin like a Khaled Hosseini novel. It relates the tale of a girl as she grows up, but in a style different from Carl Hiaasen or Judy Blume. It is sad but funny, emotional but hilarious, fiction but realistic. This book is one to keep.


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