THE LEGEND OF THE BAREFOOT MAILMAN by John Henry Fleming

THE LEGEND OF THE BAREFOOT MAILMAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Fleming's mildly comic debut, 19th-century dreams of riches and renown wither in the Florida wilderness, but an ambitious postmaster stakes his last hopes on a determined young immigrant who wants to redeem himself by carrying the mail. Earl Shank arrived in Figulus a shipwrecked sailor, but grandiose schemes of transforming the backwater hamlet into a bustling port prompted him to stay on. Now, after a series of big ideas vanished like mirages in the Florida heat, Earl has only the postmaster's job to show for his efforts--until the day when he looks up from the mail to the vision of Josef Steinmetz coming through his door. Josef has come down to start a citrus grove, only to find that his wife so loathes pioneer life that she spends all her time indoors, wrapped in mosquito netting; at the first chance, back she goes to Brooklyn. Despondent, Josef decides to atone by walking the beach as Earl's carrier, but he makes the 70-mile trek in bare feet since a pair of top-quality shoes sent by his honored late uncle never arrive. Adventures en route, including abduction first by Indians, then by murderous scavengers, bring him to the end of his trek blistered and delirious, and the prospect of a return trip prompts him to throw his mailbag into the ocean and board a steamer bound for New York. He's seen by a roving New York Times reporter, however, whose imagination is so fired by Josef's savage, shoeless aspect that he writes a human-interest series about him. Immensely popular, though mostly fictional, this account soon creates a legend, leading a shipping magnate to come to Figulus for the full story and precipitating a tourist boom, with Earl reaping the profit and the glory. Best in its views of dreamers facing reality through wildly convoluted decision-making: a gently amusing, lively tale that manages to be diverting without being riveting.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber