Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

I'm sure some reviewer, somewhere, has already made a wry comment on the irony of a writer named "Miles" producing a novel about air travel, so I'll stop trying to think of a particularly witty pun on the name of the author of Dear American Airlines.

I've often noted that I'm a soft touch for first-person narrators and for books with gimmicks -- epistolary novels, books written using a gradually decreasing alphabet, and so on -- so Dear American Airlines, a book purportedly written in longhand by one very angry air passenger during a very extended, unexpected layover in Chicago O'Hare airport, is obviously right up my street.

Bennie Ford was once a promising young poet, but now he's just a middle-aged failure, making a living by translating novels hardly anyone cares about from Polish to English and looking back through his alcohol-soaked life at his first failed marriage. (Note the lack of a comma between "first" and "failed," there.)

Bennie is trying to get from New York to San Francisco for the wedding of his daughter, Stella, who he hasn't seen since she was a baby. His wife -- also named Stella, which made for one unfortunate scene underneath a window for Bennie, since they met and married in New Orleans -- left him very early in the marriage, for what he can't quite admit, or wishes weren't, very good reasons.

But O'Hare is having some sort of trouble -- the gate attendants say that it's weather, but the sky is blue and unclouded -- so Benny's stuck there. And he begins a letter of complaint to American Airlines, which was supposed to deliver him to his only daughter in time to meet her as an adult, reconcile with her, and then walk her down the aisle.

Very little in Benny's life has gone the way he wanted it to, and he explains it all in painful, funny detail to whoever may be reading complaints at AA. (And it's surely no coincidence that Benny is turning over this last indignity, in a life full of drunken mishaps and lost opportunities, over to a higher power with those initials.)

Dear American Airlines is a short novel -- under two hundred pages, probably no more than 60,000 words -- but it circles around and around Bennie Ford's life, like a plane waiting for permission to land or a man who knows he's done wrong but just wants to explain it all in the way that puts him in a half-decent light. Bennie's voice is alternately hectoring and pleading, explaining and excusing, demanding and despairing. It's a great authentic American voice -- I've heard variations on many of its themes in my own head -- and marks the debut of a fine American writer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Wheeler:

I enjoyed very much reading your review on the novel, "Dear American Airlines." It was level-headed, empathetic yet fair, and written in a clear, incisive style.The hero of the novel reminds me of the middle-aged husband and wife of my own recent novel, "Getting Enough." They are bogged down in self-created misery like him. But from then on the similarities end. They have the courage to thrash their way out of their misery and move towards a loving reconciliation. For more information, kindly access the following website: www.strategicbookpublishing.com/GettingEnough.html.
All the best
Leonard Rosmarin

P.S. I would be very happy to have a reviewer as intelligent as yourself to a critique of my book!

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