annie aster book coverReviewed by Nina Longfield

Mailboxes and doors are seemingly simple devices. Both allow communication. Both open, yet protect that which is within. Both offer a modicum of mystery. Sometimes, though rare, mailboxes and doors allow the select few to correspond with the past or future or even travel into other worlds. The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks is a story that drops the reader within a mysterious adventure that includes a mailbox and a door.

On a dry dusty Kansas morning in 1895, Elsbeth Grundy’s trip to the water-well baffles then irritates her. Someone has placed a tall strange house in her back forty acres. Her attempts to approach the house are thwarted by some unseen barrier. In exasperation, Elsbeth leave a pointed letter to the trespasser in the ornate brass mailbox that stands on their border. A hundred years later on an ordinary San Francisco morning, Annie Aster steps through her back kitchen door to find a Kansas wheat field sprawling beyond her small backyard. Even more perplexing than the appearance of the wheat field and cabin is her inability to approach the rustic abode. Annie takes the strange appearance of the wheat field and cabin as a mystery that she is predestined to solve. The path through her garden leads her to a mailbox situated on the line between the properties. Here Annie finds a letter from her new neighbor. She is amused by Elsbeth’s note and begins a correspondence via the mailbox.

As the relationship of the two women grows to friendship, the mystery surrounding their new predicament grows to bewilderment propelled by coincidence. The Fates seem to be weaving Annie’s and Elsbeth’s lives together. This woven tapestry includes the lives of those around them. Although happenstance occurrences can be a gimmick, Wilbanks does not use them as such. These coincidences are skillfully interlaced as though they are ordinary occurrences building the foundation of The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster.

Behind all the mystery surrounding these characters, there is real life. Scott Wilbanks crafts fantastic occurrences that seem ordinary, which thereby makes the pains of life all the more compelling. Each character holds a deep wound and is unwilling to make known their own hurt even as they try to comfort another. Their frail human condition deepens this novel of mystery and adventure.

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster is a quirky novel that is worth reading. The book is told in a modernized yet reminiscent style of a Dickens or Austen novel. Some readers might balk at the seemingly free-range narrative style. There are multiple points of view that shift within a chapter, there are points of view from characters that only appear once in the story, and there is an occasional intrusive all-seeing narrator. However, Wilbanks maintains control of his narrators at all times and each is chosen for a particular purpose at that time in the story. These quirks make the novel enjoyable and at times funny. Even with the shifting point of view, it’s easy to follow which character is presenting the action.

I began The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster looking for an entertaining story, but continued to read wanting to know if the characters could cure their own afflictions of loneliness, illness, memory loss, and trust issues. All these subset stories make The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster a book that is difficult to set aside. In reading, I wanted to understand the mystery that pulled these characters together, but I wanted to know more about whether the characters would find strength to face their internal weaknesses and open up to others.

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Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.