Sunday, February 11, 2007

All mail is love (or some other nonsense): Mailman, by J. Robert Lennon

Mailman
J. Robert Lennon

Are you like me, suspecting your wily mail carrier of all sorts of pernicious deeds? I know mine reads my catalogs, my magazines, all sorts of interesting things I receive. Sometimes packages are “poorly sealed.” Sender laxity or carrier curiosity? I beg the latter. I know that several important pieces of mail accidentally “damaged” by “sorting machinery” were really due to some over-zealous mail carrier eager to massage himself to my credit card bill. Is this because I don’t tip at Christmas? It is, isn’t it? But why the hell should I? Aren’t mail carriers just doing their jobs? So if my not tipping means you get to read my mail, go for it, mailman. Anything really important is done over the internet anyway, and we all know that the internet makes spying on another absolutely impossible. Well unless you’re a terrorist, which I’m not, so I can rest assured in the knowledge that my online privacy is guaranteed! Awesome!

My already high-paranoia level was increased by reading Mailman. I was put on alert upon reading the cover, which gushed, “‘Masterpiece’ would be an exaggeration, but only a small one.” Here we go again, I thought. Have the over-hypers struck again? Or would I for once agree with a cover blurb? Surprisingly, I agreed with it! Double awesome!

Well, I agreed that the word “masterpiece” is an exaggeration. Gotcha!

Actually, the middle was pretty good. As long as you skip the beginning and the end, it is a masterpiece indeed.

Mailman centers on Albert Lippincott, our titular Mailman. In fact, he’s referred to mostly by this title and only rarely by his name. Mailman is truly defined by his job, so much so that he often takes his work home with him. Literally. To read other people’s mail in private. In fact, he’s got an entire lab set up at home: he has lots of supplies to perfectly reseal each letter to avoid detection—but only after photocopying each piece of pilfered mail to save for posterity. That’s right, his lab features its own photocopier.

He’s dysfunctional in other ways as well. He can’t maintain a normal relationship. He is alienated from society. He is friend to neither human nor animal, especially felines. He seems to be in love with his sister. And Albert is by no means a young man. For someone closer to retirement than to college, Albert should know better.

Despite these quirks, Mailman was not immediately engrossing, and it took me quite awhile to get into the story. The beginning just seemed to drag on, and I had to force myself just to get through the opening chapters. But somewhere along the way, Lennon’s hilarious prose just caught me. I rarely laugh out loud at a book-—it has to be really funny to elicit genuine laughter from me—-but Lennon’s Mailman (the middle of it, anyway) made me laugh many times. Some passages just begged to be reread because they were so hilarious.

Well, if the book is so darn funny why didn’t I rate it higher, you ask? As I said, the beginning was god-awful boring, but even that could be forgiven if the rest of the novel made up for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Mailman’s major flaw, in my oh-so humble opinion, is its ending. Quite frankly, it sucked.

At the end, Mailman’s snarky, hilarious tone derails into a hippie New-Age love fest, which would be fine (not really) if you’re a hippie (which Mailman is most decidedly not) but not if the entire tone of the novel is decidedly not so happy-happy-love-joy. In fact, it is so far from peace and love that it is quite unbelievable that Mailman can attain such growth in such a short span of time. Can he truly learn to accept and love in 400 pages? Is love truly all we need?

Even worse, the novel’s final pages are filled with bland philosophizing about how “everything” is “mail” and all mail is “love.”

Wait.

Huh?

So my car payment, that's love? And my student loan payment? And my insurance? Phone bill? Cable? All love?? I don't need that much love, really. I have dogs. And a cat. I have love to spare. Anyone want some love?

And do such “realizations” redeem Lippincott, cat abandoner, mail thief, eyeball biter? A few minutes of superficial self-reflection about the nature of mail and love? Again, I ask: huh? Lennon would have been better off withholding what seems like a false epiphany in favor of an ending more in keeping with the novel.

In a nutshell: Pretty funny there for a bit. Until it got all silly.

Bibliolatry Scale: 3 out of 6 stars

1 comment:

Lesley said...

Damn, we're supposed to tip our mailman? That would explain a lot ...

Great review, by the way!