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Dear American Airlinesby Jonathan Miles
Creatively constructed, this novel-in-a-letter has more to do with the main character's complaints about his own life than his missed flight. Dear American Airlines, the first novel by the New York Times cocktail columnist Jonathan Miles was surely written while sitting in an airport bar. If you are flying anywhere this holiday season, arrive at the airport early — and pack this book.
For a tiny little book, this sure packed a big wallop. I expected humor and angst (which it had), but I sure didn't expect a poignant and beautiful little study on the meaning of life and, surprisingly, suicide. While Bennie, an alcoholic, washed-up poet, is desperately trying to get to his daughter's wedding, he writes a rambling, scathing letter to American Airlines detailing his frustration at his delayed flight. Blistering humor and some pretty fabulous literary linguistics follow. But, it's the secondary plot line that tears pretty quickly at your heart. Bennie is translating a Polish novel about a wounded war veteran. He inserts pieces of this novel into his tome to AA (and no, that acronym is not lost on Bennie). It is an amazingly tender and haunting story. It's hard to even reconcile that the two stories are from the same writer. I'm now thoroughly intrigued about Jonathan Miles and must seek out more!
Synopses & Reviews
Bennie Ford, a fifty-three-year-old failed poet turned translator, is traveling to his estranged daughters wedding when his flight is canceled. Stuck with thousands of fuming passengers in the purgatory of O'Hare International Airport, he watches the clock tick and realizes that he will miss the ceremony. Frustrated, irate, and helpless, Bennie does the only thing he can: he starts to write a letter. But what begins as a hilariously excoriating demand for a refund soon becomes a lament for a life gone awry, for years misspent, talent wasted, and happiness lost. Bennie's writing is infused with a sense of remorse for the actions of a lifetime — and made all the more urgent by the fading hope that if he can just make it to the wedding, he might have a chance to do something right.
A margarita blend of outrage, humor, vulnerability, intelligence, and regret, Dear American Airlines gives new meaning to the term "airport novel" and announces the emergence of a major new talent in American fiction.
"This crisp yowl of a first novel from Miles, who covers books for Men's Journal and cocktails for the New York Times, finds despairing yet effusive litterateur Benjamin Ford midair in midlife crisis. Bennie is en route from New York, where he shares a cramped apartment with his stroke-disabled mother and her caretaker, to L.A., where he will attend his daughter Stella's wedding. He gets stranded at O'Hare when his connecting flight — along with all others — is unaccountably canceled. In the long, empty hours amid a marooned crowd, Bennie's demand for a refund quickly becomes a scathing yet oddly joyful reflection on his difficult life, and on the Polish novel he is translating. Bennie writes lightly of his 'dark years' of drinking, of his failed marriages, about his mother's descent into suicidal madness and about her marriage to Bennie's father, a survivor of a Nazi labor camp. Bennie's father recited Polish poetry for solace during Bennie's childhood, inadvertently setting Bennie's life course; Bennie's command of language as he describes his fellow strandees and his riotous embrace of his own feelings will have readers rooting for him. By the time flights resume, Miles has masterfully taken Bennie from grim resignation to the dazzling exhilaration of the possible. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"One of the many pleasures of Dear American Airlines is watching Benjamin's and Walenty's stories finally dovetail in a way that's not just philosophically but emotionally rewarding. Ah, but the digressions! Not every reader will love them as I did." Richard Russo, New York Times
"Mr. Miles is a superb writer and learned, too. Allusions, literary and otherwise, abound." Dallas Morning News
"This is writing that pulls no punches....It's also very funny." Los Angeles Times
"Miles has done a beautiful job of moderating Benny's riffs and rants, so that we get to know him gradually, circularly, as one might do a loquacious town crank who tells good stories." Boston Globe
"Turn to nearly any page and you'll find a funny, smart, touching, wonderfully caustic or well-turned sentence or paragraph." Chicago Tribune
From the cocktails columnist at the The New York Times comes the scathingly funny, deeply moving story of a stranded airline passenger, whose enraged letter of complaint transforms into a lament for a life gone awry.
“Why are you so unhappy?” Thats the question that Zeke Pappas, a thirty-three-year-old scholar, asks almost everybody he meets as part of an obsessive project, “The Inventory of American Unhappiness.” The answers he receivesa mix of true sadness and absurd complaintcreate a collage of woe. Zeke, meanwhile, remains delightfully oblivious to the increasingly harsh realities that threaten his daily routine, opting instead to focus his energy on finding the perfect mate so that he can gain custody of his orphaned nieces. Following steps outlined in a womens magazine, the ever-optimistic Zeke identifies some “prospects”: a newly divorced neighbor, a coffeehouse barista, his administrative assistant, and Sofia Coppola (“Why not aim high?”).
A clairvoyant when it comes to the Starbucks orders of strangers, a quixotic renegade when it comes to the federal bureaucracy, and a devoted believer in the afternoon cocktail and the evening binge, Zeke has an irreverent voice that is a marvel of lacerating wit and heart-on-sleeve emotion, underscored by a creeping paranoia and made more urgent by the hope that if he can only find a wife, he might have a second chance at life.
About the Author
Jonathon Miles is the cocktails columnist for the New York Times. His journalism, essays, and literary criticism have appeared in many publications, including the New York Times Book Review, GQ, the New York Observer, and the Oxford American. A former longtime resident of Oxford, Mississippi, he lives in New York.
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