In Undeliverable by Rebecca Demarest, the author centers the novel around a metaphor of lost mail for a lost child. There are such chapter titles as the first, “A Brief History of the Mail Recovery System” to “Return to Sender” to “Long Term Storage” as the novel takes the protagonist Ben Grant on a determined search for his lost son, acquiring a job with the mail recovery system to use its database for the search. In the course of the quest, Ben’s marriage breaks up, he develops an alcohol problem, clashes with coworkers, and, more positively, begins a relationship with a coworker who has her own problems. There is great humor, at times, gallows humor, related to relationships and family life — on Ben’s somewhat dysfunctional family background, his coworker Sylvia’s definitely dysfunctional one, and of Ben and his estranged wife’s preparations for their long-anticipated child that results in this tragic loss. We see Ben’s go through crisis related to his obsessive search to a kind of acceptance.
This is a well-plotted, well-written story — its central metaphor of lost mail for a lost child creative and poignant. Ben channels his frustration with his inability to find his child to reconnecting mail to its intended recipient — efforts often similarly futile. The details of the “mail recovery system” and history of the mail service, in general, are actually interesting. Most topics are inherently interesting, when gone into with enough depth and clarity. The details of the detective work that Ben does in his search are actually more thorough and systematic than that of the professional police detectives. Riveting. There is peace, if no real happy endings, at the resolution of the story for both Ben and Sylvia, both tragic figures who have experienced loss.
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