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'The Mailman' Is a First-Class Horror Novel All the Way

April 02, 1998

"T he Mailman," by Bentley Little, is that rarity of rarities, a thinking person's horror novel. If Kevin Costner had starred in a movie of this book, it would have been a hit.

The novel tells of the takeover of a small Arizona town by a malevolent postal worker who loses bills, reroutes letters and uses the mail to instigate feuds and fan the flames of racial hatred. Eventually, the entire fabric of society in this small community unravels, and people end up living in isolated houses, without water, without electricity, living in fear of the mailman's daily appearance.

Horror fiction too often deteriorates into mindless violence or simplistic chase scenarios, but "The Mailman" uses the conventions of the genre to address serious issues. It's also very scary.

Little is a highly regarded Southern California author, and this, his little-known second novel, was recently re-released to capitalize on the success of his more recent books. It was a wise decision. "The Mailman" delivers.

JOANNE MASSIE

Anaheim Hills

*

It was very courageous of Marjorie Fasman to write about the well-known character Darcy, the mysterious hero of "Pride and Prejudice," in her novel "The Diary of Henry Fitzwilliam Darcy" (New Leaf Press, 1997).

To help the reader know him better, Fasman has invented a confidential diary, adding details relating to his family life, such as a cold and unloving mother who only thinks of the rigid code by which a gentleman lives. The author has imagined Darcy's early school days at Harrow, and later at Cambridge. Fasman has also propelled Wickham into Darcy's youth and created enough foul play on Wickham's part to substantiate the reasons Darcy despises him in the book by his original creator, Jane Austen.

Throughout the novel, Fasman has also provided a full description of Darcy's Pemberton estate, and how he runs it with intelligence and with compassion toward his tenants. She has animated Darcy's character by adding a love of theater and a talent for acting, a pleasure proscribed for a gentleman that he must forego.

The novel is greatly enlivened when Elizabeth Bennet enters. Fasman has made her a more delightful, desirable woman than did even Austen.

REGINA K. FADIMAN

Los Angeles

*

Pam Durban is a creative writing teacher and professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "All Set About With Fever Trees And Other Stories," Durban's book of short stories published in 1995 by Brown Thrasher Press, is a masterful collection of stories, some heart wrenching, about families, loss and survival.

My personal favorites in the collection are "This Heat," about a Georgia mill worker and single mother who loses her only child, a teenage boy who's given her more heartache than help; "World of Women," an adolescent boy's recollection of being taught how to swim by a young woman on whom he has an intense crush; "A Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone," about a female country and western singer whose life has been a long series of hits and misses; and "All Set About With Fever Trees," the story of a retired grandmother who inexplicably decides to go to Africa and become a missionary for a few years, leaving her family puzzled and astounded.

Her characters are touching and real. This collection is absolutely wonderful.

ANN CREWS VASSILIOU

Sherman Oaks

*

Romance novels are more likely to be satirized by Jay Leno than reviewed in the L.A. Times. But those who still joke about the genre or use the antiquated term "bodice ripper" simply haven't discovered the '90s empowered romance heroines.

In Susan Elizabeth Phillips' "Dream a Little Dream" (Avon, 1998), the heroine is the widow of a preacher who absconded with church funds. When the widow Snopes returns to the small Southern town that blames her for her husband's misdeeds, she has a sickly 5-year-old to support and hopes to find the money her husband hid in the town. No delicate Southern flower, she supports herself with hard physical labor and wears nothing more glamorous than some outdated house dresses and a pair of men's black shoes while defrosting the icy hearts of hero Gabe Bonner and the town that hated her. A warm and humorous story.

ROSE MURRAY

Santa Monica

* Next Week: Cathy Curtis on art and photography books.

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