Friday, September 23, 2011

Review -- Airmail

Title: Airmail
Author: Naomi Bulger
Genre: Novella/General fiction
Price: $9.31 (paperback) / $7.69 (Kindle)
Publisher: I Universe
ISBN: 978-1450235495
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: Reclusive old Mr. G.L. Solomon's favorite things are single malt whiskey, Steve McQueen movies, and gingersnap cookies. He hates processed cheese, washing detergent commercials, and the way the teacup rattles in the saucer when he picks it up. Solomon has become accustomed to his lonely routine in Sydney, Australia-until the day he begins sporadically receiving letters in his mailbox from a complete stranger. On the other side of the world, Anouk is a mentally delicate young woman living in New York who insists she is being stalked by a fat woman in a pink tracksuit. When Anouk declares to Solomon that she is writing "from the Other Side," the old man breaks away from his daily grind of watching soap operas and reading Fishing World and travels to New York to find her. As he is drawn into Anouk's surreal world of stalkers and storytelling, marbles and cats, purgatory and Plato, Solomon has but one goal-to unravel the mystery before it is too late.

Part epistolary confession, part Alice and Wonderland, part journey into madness, this quirky little book winds up being quite the philosophical handful. When I first began reading it, it reminded me of a clay animation film titled Mary and Max about an eight-year old Australian girl who randomly begins to write to an obese middle-aged man from New York with Asperger's syndrome. In Air Mail, the main character is a young woman, an ex-patriot from Australia living in New York City, randomly writing to a retired gentleman in Australia whom she chose from the phone book. Yes, seems very similar, and it is to a degree. Anouk relives all the depressing details of her life through her letters to Mr. G.L. Solomon, but when she thinks she is being stalked by a fat woman in a pink tracksuit, things take a more fantastic turn, Anouk's looking glass being the marbles that hold the stories of her life, stories that are being manipulated in a much larger universal game in which pink tracksuit is only one of many storytellers who may or may not be what they seem reminiscent of the angels in A Life Less Ordinary.

Anouk is a psychologically fragile young woman, and she finds solace in her unsolicited scribbling to Solomon. Her writing style is much the same as we often see in psychiatric patients. Solomon is intrigued, but generally unmoved by the letters and gifts until he receives the marbles. Routine is all Solomon knows, and he is comfortable with the way the twilight of his life is playing itself out, until one day Anouk writes him from the "other side," proclaiming that she is dead. This is the trigger, and promptly Solomon buys a plane ticket to NY and leaves his entire life behind. He believes Anouk is in trouble, and he believes he can help her. He can, but not in any traditional sense of the word help.

The story is very well written, full of the fantastical, the surreal, and the philosophical themes I love so much in this sort of story, yet it still stays grounded in the realities of mental illness without being overbearing about the subject matter. Anouk could be suffering from schizophrenia or any number of psychological issues, and Solomon clearly has a severe case of OCD. Or do they? Maybe their souls are simply on a journey. We can ask, do marbles hold the stories of our lives to be played and manipulated by a bunch of intellectual hippy-angel storytellers? Who knows. This sort of story is left to reader interpretation, as it should be. The characters were well developed, and the letters, sometimes frightening, were never overly sentimental. The "yes" letter being the most disturbing and the most telling in the entire book.

The book has been called charming, funny, quirky, profound, and yes, it is all those things. It is also very dark and insightful and compelling. I have to say, this is one of the better books I have read all year. Easily done in one sitting, but a much better read if taken slowly. As for presentation, the cover is lovely and the interior formatting is pleasing to the eye. Very well done. You know that old philosophical saying: A life unexamined; well, here is a perfect example of the miraculous things that can happen when a life is.

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