Rain Nor Sleet
J. Robert Lennon C92s latest novel, Mailman, is a darkly comic epic about Albert Lippincott, a postal worker in upstate New York with an unfortunate compulsion: He reads and photocopies other peoples letters. The story takes off when a customer commits suicide before Mailman can return a borrowed missive that might have saved him. During the adventures that follow, Mailman is forced to consider the meaning of his own messed-up life. Gazette associate editor Susan Frith talked with Lennon about the book in a phone interview last November from his home in Ithaca, New York:
Albert Lippincott, the Mailman of this story, is an unlikely hero. If you were asked to give a character referencean honest character reference to someone about Mailman, what would you tell them?
I would say he is extremely moral, though his moral system is personal and a little bit dissimilar from the average. And he certainly is efficient. He has an intensity necessary for a high-pressure job, if not the emotional stability. That said, I probably wouldnt hire him.
How did you do the research for this book? Did you spend much time in the company of mailmen?
I did a bunch of interviews and toured the post office and wrote down all the jargon, and my local letter carriers were extremely helpful. They were the first ones to get copies of the book.
Were people cooperative in talking with you?
In generalIve had to do a little research for all my novelspeople always want to talk about their jobs, because its rare for someone to say to them, Tell me about your job. [To research the notorious postal inspectors], I interviewed a union steward at the post office, and he told me a few horror stories. He said, Whatever you want to make up about these guys, theyve done worse.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your letter carriers?
The ones who have commented on it have done so in order to say they like it. I think in general they feel Im on their side, that it was a fairly accurate portrait, if a little over the top, of what its like to be a mailman.
This is your fourth novel. Does it get easier?
It only gets harder. It should get harder. You assume your standards are going up.
Despite Mailmans mental instability, he does offer an insightful commentary about the world around him.
There arent really any political protest momentsI think I simply channeled my political frustrations into the novel, and into the character. I do have Mailman listening to the radio and having derisive thoughts about the 2000 election, but mostly he just feels powerless, impotent, touchy, and under-appreciated for his strengths, which in my opinion is the state of the American votereven more now than in 2000. Im trying to subtly encapsulate an era with the emotional fabric of the book.
2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
THINGS ORNAMENTAL : The Arts
Film Shattered Glass. Why lie?
Art Vibrant visions at the University Museum
Books The Singing. New poems by C.K. Williams
Interview Novelist J. Robert Lennon delivers Mailman