Book Review: The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
By: Scott Wilbanks
Published By: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Page Count: 400
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Adult - Magical Realism

Annie has never been one for conformity. She dresses in vintage clothes and has tea. Not just the beverage, mind you; we’re talking about the afternoon meal with porcelain place settings and everything. She finds an exceptionally ugly, carved, red door at an antique store, falls in love with it, and buys it immediately. Mysteriously, as she is walking out her newly installed back door one morning, a Kansas wheat field with a cabin in it appears at the edge of her urban San Francisco backyard. Separating the field from her yard is a picket fence with a mailbox perched on it. Inside, Annie finds a letter from her new “neighbor” who is quite put out about having a large purple Victorian home suddenly in the middle of her wheat field. How did 1890’s Kansas come to be joined to 1990s San Francisco? Are Annie and Elsbeth connected somehow? 

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster is a fun little time-bending mystery. Wilbanks’s whimsically romantic writing style is perfect for this story of a woman out of time. As Annie and Elsbeth explore their situation they find they find that Annie’s newly acquired door has a past. It has been bought and returned several times, and there is an article attached to the store’s paperwork that tells Annie that the door belonged to a professional magician who was murdered. 

 The vivid supporting characters were the best part of the book. My favorite character was Elsbeth, the tetchy former schoolmarm. Cantankerous at the start (“Trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!”), she becomes a stalwart friend for Annie. Mr. Culler and Mr. Danyer, the villains, also have delightfully distinct personalities. 

One thing that did bother me about The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, though, was the neatness of the time travel. Although there are a number of twists relating to the time travel in the story, Wilbanks is clearly in the “can’t change the past” time travel philosophy camp. Because of the news article about Mr. Abbott, the creator of the door, Annie and her friends deliberately choose to recreate what they know has already happened in 1895 which took a lot of the tension out of the story for me. I prefer time travel to be a little messier. I would rather things either ended up as the article indicated in spite of what Annie and her friends chose to do, or had the characters choose to do things differently than the article and create a new time line. I suppose it’s nerdy of me to have strong opinions about time travel, but there it is.

Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.
Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.