Elizabeth Gilbert's first three books, Pilgrims, Stern Men, and the National Book Award nominee The Last American Man, received awards and acclaim, but her fourth, Eat, Pray, Love, a chronicle of her spiritual search and redemption following a difficult divorce, has put her on the bedside tables of millions of readers across the world. Her next book, Weddings and Evictions, a memoir about her unexpected journey into second marriage, will be published in 2009.
I'm one of those readers who can't get enough of Martin Amis novels, since Amis--a savage misanthrope who sometimes writes, it seems, with a drill bit--is a guilty pleasure of mine from way back. So it's no wonder that I fell so hard for the bitter, hilarious, dark, twisted, and wonderfully written delights of Dear American Airlines--the most Amis-like novel I've ever read. Jonathan Miles is a first-time novelist (and--full disclosure--friend of mine) whose journalism I've long admired for its clear, humane prose. I never suspected that he had a book like this in him, and--frankly--now that I do know, I'm a little worried for his mental state (even as I'm totally impressed with his writing.)
The novel relays the tale of Bennie Ford, a man who is marinating like a cocktail olive in the sour middle-aged juices of his own mistakes, but who has decided to redeem himself completely by attending the wedding of his estranged daughter. Now, as some of us have learned from painful personal experience, it's not always easy to redeem a lifetime of screw-ups in one weekend, but that doesn't deter Bennie from heading to the airport to fly off to what he has decided is the most important event in his life. (The fact that he doesn't seem to notice that the wedding should actually be the most important event in his DAUGHTER'S life, not his, is an early clue of his particular breed of hilarious narcissism.) But at the airport is where his troubles begin, as American Airlines cancels his flight and thus--as far as he is concerned--destroys his life. What follows is a complaint letter raised to the level of high narrative art. I have never before encountered a novel written in the form of a complaint letter, and we can safely assume there will never be another such after this one, just because Miles has created an inimitable story here--one which, despite all the dark wit of its narrator--leaves room in the sad margins for real heartbreak, real feeling, real life. (This is something Amis himself wasn't able to do until many years into his career.) This is the most entertaining first novel I've read in a long while, as well as a searing cautionary tale. Bring it to the airport with you next time you fly somewhere to change your life...
From Publishers Weekly
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