Imagine, if you will, that you are an English teacher in small town Arizona. You live an average existence with your wife and son. You get along well with your friends and neighbors in a part of the country where everybody knows your name. Life might not be great, for who can judge such a thing, but by God, it’s peaceful. Even the mailman hardly ever brings bad news.

That is, until the friendly neighborhood mailman is found to have committed suicide, and the new guy who comes to take his place seems just a tad off-kilter. Almost like something evil lurks just below the surface of the communal spirit.

 

Bentley Little’s sophomore novel, The Mailman, is the story of Doug Albin, his wife Tritia, and their son Billy. This is a family you might find just down the street from you; they are good people, civilized people, living in a good and civilized community. Of course, their peaceful existence starts to turn sour once John Smith, the new mailman, starts delivering the mail in his sleek, red sports car. At first, the mail seems to bring only good news: found money, funding for school textbooks, and other needs, not a single bill or piece of junk mail in sight. This, in itself, might not seem so eerie, except that eventually the electricity and water start going off on account of no bills being paid. This is what first tips Doug off that something might be amiss.

Over time, other pieces of mail start to arrive in the form of forged letters coming from old friends and neighbors. Return addresses that might have at one point brought brotherly love now threaten and expose hidden hostilities, and soon everybody in town starts to distrust and even loathe the sight of each other. Suicides and even murders start to creep up in numbers higher than what is statistically possible; even childhood friends call each other out for the lust of each other’s mothers.

Each and every morning the mailman comes by, earlier with each passing day, delivering letters from nightmares and hellscapes. With his unnatural smile and fiery red hair, John Smith doesn’t allow for anything to get in the way of completing his appointed rounds.

The Mailman, a superb early novel by Bentley Little (author of such masterpieces as The Revelation and The Store), provides plenty of venom, blood, guts, and gore without straying too far into splatterpunk territory. In fact, I am personally unsure of how to categorize such a book, except to say it’s quite a savage satiric look into the world of the postal service. This does seem to be Little’s talent. With novels such as The Store, The Academy, and even The Consultant (the basis for a recent Amazon show), he takes mundane aspects of public, corporate, and basic governmental life and spins them on their head with horrors and nightmare magic. The Mailman is no different, and it helped to set the tone for the rest of Little’s career.

 

The book provides the reader with next to no clues as to who or even what the mailman is, though it does hint at a possible demonic entity. There’s no clear motive behind the malevolence either, except that maybe the mailman has no motive other than just watching the world burn. By the time that the evil is defeated (while hinting that it’s far from over), we are left with much of the mystery still left to solve.

For some readers, that lack of closure might be a problem. For me, I’m still left thinking about this book long after I’ve closed the back cover. That’s what makes The Mailman so great. 

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