Mailman succeeds in grand style and on its own unsettling terms. "Masterpiece" would be an exaggeration but only a small one. Just remember not to order your copy online -- you never know who's going to deliver it.
From one perspective, mail can be seen as merely the humble ebb and flow of letters, bills and advertisements. From another perspective, it is the cosmic principle of life itself: "Every datum is addressed with the name of its beloved: the pheromone finds its receptor, the dog roots out its bone, the sentence seeks the period at its end: and it is all mail." Lennon's protagonist, Mailman, aka Albert Lippincott, oscillates between this postal version of the sublime and the ridiculous. The novel unfolds from June 2, 2000, when someone on Albert's mail route, Jared Sprain, in Nestor, N.Y., commits suicide. On that night, Albert is caught by one of Jared's neighbors delivering a letter to Jared's box. The neighbor thinks there is something irregular about Albert's activities, and she is right: his dirty secret is that he reads, copies and sometimes doesn't deliver his mail. She apparently reports him, for Albert is suddenly taken in by Post Office inspectors for interrogation. After he is released pending further investigation, he skips town, heading vaguely for his retired parents' place in Florida. Lennon (The Funnies, etc.) lays out Albert's life in big blocks of introspections and reminiscences. Albert harbors a semiconscious sexual longing for his sister, Gillian, who is an actress; retains violent memories of his mother, a slutty singer, and more pathetic memories of his father, a chemist. Albert is sensitive to odors, subject to mental dissonance, angry, and feels alternately trapped and comforted by his routines. He's both Everyman and Nobody. As with one of Chuck Close's blown-up photo-realistic portraits, we feel both confronted and fascinated by Albert's sheer materiality. This is an intermittently brilliant text-with long, maddeningly tedious patches-and will surely be much noted this fall. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Like Joseph Heller's John Yossarian (Catch-22) and Ken Kesey's Randle McMurphy (One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest), Alfred Lippincott, Lennon's titular mailman, is destined to become one of the great characters in American literature. Having first arrived as a student, he has lived and worked in a small, upstate New York college town for over 30 years. Bright, passionate, and neurotic, he suffered a breakdown while studying that haunts his existence, and at 57 he has become "lost in his own life." He reads other people's mail, has become hooked on pornography, and seems unable to maintain any kind of real relationship with anyone except, perhaps, the sister about whom he has sexually ambiguous feelings. To top it off, he has developed a throbbing pain and visible lump under his right arm. If all this seems pretty bleak, it is compensated for by Lippincott's ability to recognize the madness and stupidity around him, to articulate for the reader the frustration we all feel at times with the absurdities in life. For Lippincott, life is like "one squirrel with a bum leg chas[ing] another squirrel with no tail while a couple of crows watch the whole thing, screaming." Despite his trials, however, in the surprisingly redemptive end, "he would not object to a little bit more life." This is black comedy at its best; one can already see Jack Nicholson in the title role. Essential. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/03.]-David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The messy inner life of a thoroughly (but not murderously) disturbed postal employee is explored in the detail so loved by Richard Ford and J.D. Salinger. What is it about upstate New York? Surely, somewhere there are happy people living lives better than the vision of Joyce Carol Oates? Yes? Maybe not. The latest lugubrious wacko upstater to self-destruct under the microscope of a wry, gifted, but terminally pessimistic writer (The Light of Falling Stars, 1997, etc.) is late-boomer Albert Lippincott, child of world-class dysfunction, Dad a minor Princeton scientist, Mom a nymphomaniacal would-be torch singer, Sis a future very minor actress willing to strut her naked stuff in front of the brother she knows to be hiding under the bed. Albert's brilliant college career ended PDQ when, in the grip of an ecstatic understanding of the unifying theory of the universe, he attacked his excessively irritating, self-important, best-selling French physics professor and tried to bite his eyeball in the middle of a lecture. A brief stay in the loony bin led to gloomy romance and marriage with a psychiatric nurse and a job with the United States Postal Service (still just the P.O. at that time). It's been pretty much downhill ever since, until, at the turn of the century, divorced, living alone except for the crazed housecats bequeathed by a late girlfriend, Albert has succumbed to the unforgivable temptation of opening and reading the mail on his route. (The first letter opened was to the odious Professeur Renault.) Sometimes he even answers the letters. But the latest purloined correspondence has made unusual problems. Ripped in the opening, a hand-decorated envelope has proven impossible toreproduce, and its failure to arrive may have resulted in the suicide of its intended recipient, an artist even more cheerless than Albert. And now, as the postal inspectors close in on him, Albert's got this nasty lump growing on his chest. Sardonic fun for the young and pierced. Exhausting for the aged and experienced.
As emotionally devastating as it is scabrously funny. Carina Chocano
Mailman is madness, pure dazzling energy. Lennon's writing contains enough electricity to light up the country.”
This deliciously antic and deeply serious book confirms J. Robert Lennon's reputation as one of the best young American novelists at work today. Both wildly eccentric and blandly familiar, Mailman (born Albert Lippincott), disgruntled civil servant and spectacular underachiever, is a brilliant creation. Where his quirky imagination, incorrigible criminal tendencies, misguided idealism, lustful fantasies, and passionate search for love, meaning, and redemption will take him keeps the reader fascinated until the astonishing end. At heart, the unforgettable Mailman is a romantic, and Mailman is a great American romance.”
Because I love books that are marked by strong narrative and a wealth of intimate detail, I found myself completely enthralled by this novel. In its straightforward but cunning portrayal of the Mailman and his voyeuristic universe, this book not only conveys the quite interesting inner life of its main character, but also poses a number of questions about identity, love and cultural transplantation. With an all-American veneer and a sense of humor that gives portions of this novel a nearly 1940-esque Hollywood coziness, it has its own heart of darkness, and, as such, is sure to please not only the reader who cherishes lively and rewarding fiction, but those who read for their inner enrichment as well.
As emotionally devastating as it is scabrously funny.
Carina Chocano - Entertainment Weekly
J. Robert Lennon's Mailman is hilarious, touching, and so outrageous in its appeals I'd love to think it didn't cut so deep. But it does, becomes part of one's nervous system. A dazzling novel, certainly, but also one which has a cumulative power so strong it works its finest work against our will. Lennon is in control of a nervous prose and a remarkable ability to tap the funniest and most telling details, and inside his rare artistic generosity is a darkly comic vision whose scope we have not seen in decades. The absurd mailman of the title, Albert Lippincott, is one of the great inescapable characters of our time.”