The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster - Scott Wilbanks

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster starts with the eponymous Annie Aster opening her door, recently installed in her 1995 kitchen, and finding herself in an 1895 Kansas wheatfield. She promptly begins a pen-pal relationship with her spunky 1895 neighbor. As the story develops, Annie and her friend Christian begin to explore the history of the door, attempt to stop a murder, and find themselves dragged into a time-hopping adventure.

 

I really, really wish I could have liked this book. I’m sorry, Lemoncholy Life; despite your beguiling title, it just wasn’t meant to be. I do hope you find your perfect readers, and I’ve no doubt you will. But sadly, I won't be among them.

 

At heart, I think I suffered from style dissonance. The book has a slow start, and I had to keep taking breaks because I can only take so much saccharine before my teeth start to hurt. The author tries quite hard to do a Jane-Austen-style narrator, and perhaps he just tries a little too hard. I began to have premonitions on the very first page, when “Lemoncholy” is defined. I’m of the opinion that when one explains a joke, it dies. On the other hand, I also strongly believe that the magical system in a story must be explainable. In this case, the door’s supernatural powers and mysterious limits effectively defy explanation; both exist for plot convenience, and I can attest that thinking about them too hard or expecting an explanation will only lead to frustration. I’m mostly a mystery reader, so unexplained coincidences, conundrums, and contradictions drive me nuts. In this case, I compiled a whole list. Conveniently, most of my complaints are pretty spoilery, so I won’t bore you with them in plaintext. Suffice it to say that carelessness with factual accuracy and internal consistency soured me a bit on Lemoncholy Life.

 

One of the most glaring factual errors was the bone marrow bit. Annie explains her inability to get a transplant on her blood type, AB-negative. According to her, this is one of the rarest blood types, so she has about 1/100 chance of finding a compatible donor. This is so staggeringly wrong that I’m utterly appalled it made it through editing. First of all, bone marrow transplants are a lot more persnickety and prone to rejection than blood (you need HLA compatibility), which is why it’s so difficult to match. 1/100 seems pretty good odds. Second, how did no one notice this ridiculous comment about blood? In everything but the rhresus-negative bit, Annie is set. AB is the universal recipient. Even if the type itself is not so common, AB blood means that you don’t have antigen reactions to any blood type and can accept A, B, or O.

 

The door’s magic is awfully convenient. We know that Abbott created the door and Annie can use it, but for unknown reasons, Abbott’s mother couldn’t and it magically blocks Annie and Elsbeth from close contact within either world. (Apparently this is what “the door repels bloodlines” means.) And then there are magical codexes that allow them to get near to one another...why? Oh, right, plot convenience. What would Abbott’s mother’s inability to use the door have to do with the repulsion between Elspeth and Annie? And how, precisely, did the Cherokee happen to know that particular little factoid in the first place?

 

Given that Christian’s angel is supposedly Edward, what’s it doing sitting on fenceposts and whatnot? Never explained.

 

The bit about Danyer just offended me. If the author wanted to play that game, he should have hired an editor to catch all the places where Danyer is seen or referred to by the other characters. Cap’n sees him attacking Fabian in the first section...so, what, we’re supposed to think that that was Culler’s alternate personality dress-up game? And that Cap’n missed the similarity? The same question holds for the bank scene--since Cap’n recognizes him, it must be the same man, meaning the man standing behind Annie is Culler in disguise, which again makes no sense in context. David also saw him outside the theatre-- and if Danyer is really a dress-up game, then that means David missed the similarity of the voice and walk as well. Then there’s the conversation Edward overheard, which Culler thinks is with Danyer and we’re supposed to believe is just with someone random. And what, no one noticed or commented all those times Culler was audibly talking to himself? How do actions such as a paper being passed across a table take place? Who eats the food that Danyer orders? Who was holding the kitten in Elsbeth’s house? Admittedly David does behave oddly when Culler pours three glasses, but there are plenty of other cases that should have caused reaction. Although I know it happens all the time in romantic comedies, I don’t believe a hat and a fake moustache or two are enough to halt recognition. Plus, it seems vastly unfair that the omniscient narrator makes comments about Danyer as an entity distinct from Culler, such as his lack of courage...it’s not as if Culler is being the unreliable narrator here.

(show spoiler)

 


My favourite character was easily Elsbeth, the spunky Victorian woman who starts the story by threatening to shoot Annie for invading her corn field. I didn’t really dislike any of the rest, but I never felt particularly involved in most of their conflicts either. Many of the characters’ personality traits depend upon Informed Attributes provided by the narrator in trademark amused omniscient fashion, and because the characters themselves seemed to fall into well-defined tropes. Perhaps the only character who really escapes this is Christian, who is, not incidentally, probably my other favourite character. Christian is recovering from some unexplained tragedy (a common motif in the book) which has left him with a terrible shyness, an inability to talk without stuttering, and a tendency to walk and read at the same time. Christian is complex and interesting, all the more so for his lack of self-knowledge. While I liked the slower-moving romance, there’s also an egregious bit of InstaLove that got on my nerves. The plot itself is rather unevenly paced; at the beginning, it’s very slow-moving and quite cute, but at some point, an impressive amount of violence is introduced. Due to the time travel aspect, we keep seeing the same events over and over, and since they’ve been predetermined from the first, I had trouble forcing my attention back on the plot.

 

I really regret being unable to enjoy this book to the full. The whimsical title, the time travel, the spunky Victorian characters... it should have been a perfect fit, and simply wasn't. I wish future readers better luck with finding the sweetness in Lemoncholy Life.

 

~~ I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through NetGalley from the publisher, Sourcebook Landmarks, in exchange for my honest review.~~