My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Having seen this book making the rounds in the book review world, I snatched it up while at the library last week and read it within a 48 hour period (keeping the light on til past midnight to finish it!)
Poor A.J. Though not your typical book-lover, (he is quite picky with his reading preferences), A.J. owns a bookstore in a small town and is recovering (albeit not very well), from losing his wife in a car accident. He is on the fast road to alcoholism and will most likely also lose his business, because he simply cannot cope. But he has an ace in the hole; a rare edition of Poe’s early work that should bring in plenty of dough for his retirement.
Unfortunately, one night A.J. has too much to drink, passes out, and leaves his precious rare edition out of its normal locked place in the cabinet, and it is stolen.
But, wait! Fate intervenes in the form of a small child. Maya is left literally on his doorstep (well, in the bookshop itself), and life begins to change for A.J. He realizes he can’t give her up, and he has to make it because he is now responsible for a small life.
The novel appeals to those book lovers who love the book talk:
“While visiting the baby, many of the women even buy books and magazines. A.J. begins to stock books because he thinks the women will enjoy discussing them. For a while, the circle responds to contemporary stories about overly capable women trapped in troubled marriages; they like if she has an affair – not that they themselves have (or will admit to having had) affairs. The fun is in judging these women. Women who abandon their children are a bridge too far, although husbands who have terrible accidents are usually received warmly (extra points if he dies, and she finds love again.) Maeve Binchy is popular for a while, until Margene, who in another life had been an investment banker, raises the complaint that Binchy’s work is too formulaic: “How many times can I read about a women married too young to a bad, handsome man in a stifling Irish town?”
“The Storied Life…” is written sometimes from the point of view of A.J., sometimes from Maya’s viewpoint, and sometimes from other characters in the novel (a police officer who learns to love to read and who starts a book club? REALLY?)
“What’s good in crime that I haven’t read? I need some new picks for Chief’s Choice”.
A.J. walks over to the crime section. He looks across the spines, which are, for the most part, black and red with all capitalized fonts in silvers and whites. An occasional burst of fluorescence breaks up the monotony. A.J. thinks how similar everything in the crime genre looks. 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.”
Yes, it is sentimental. Yes, it plays on sympathy, and maybe at times is a bit too trite (and, I never appreciate bad language. I know authors feel they have to be ‘genuine’ and reflect today’s vernacular but I also like my reading to be tasteful!) The characters are quick to state that they don’t believe in God and they live their lives seemingly accepting whatever fate offers them (and Maya is waaay too insightful for a three year old!)
There are no moral lessons in this novel beyond the trite ending about ‘love’ being our reason for existence:
“We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.”
But even with these few quibbles, I have to say that the story itself was enjoyable and this was a fast read!
I enjoyed this book very much because it involved characters who had a story to tell, and who loved books! The creative background-story given behind Maya’s existence (that only the reader and two other characters will ever learn), was innovative and gave me reason to think about this book again and again (and that is reason enough for me to rate it a good read!)