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Dear American Airlines: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Miles
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Bennie Ford, a fifty-three-year-old failed poet turned translator, is traveling to his estranged daughter’s 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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Elizabeth Gilbert on Dear American Airlines
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

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2849 KB
  • Print Length: 193 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0547054017
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,309 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Benjamin Ford, the protagonist of this novel, is flying from New York to Los Angeles to attend his daughter Stella's wedding. But in transit, at the O'Hare airport, his connecting flight is suddenly cancelled, stranding him. He begins to worry that he will be late for the wedding. While waiting for more than eight hours at the air port - and smoking seventeen cigarettes - for the next flight, he starts writing a letter of complaint to the American Airlines, demanding a refund of $392.68, the price of the round trip airfare. This letter of complaint grows in length, and matures into a funny, witty, mesmerizing novel.

Benjamin, middle-aged, is a poet and writer; he translates Polish novels into English. While writing the letter of complaint, he ponders about his failed marriages, his misdirected and ruined life, the time he wasted drinking heavily, his estranged daughter, his bed-ridden mother and the cramped apartment he shares with her. He also dwells on Walenty Mozelewski, the protagonist of the novel "The Free State of Trieste," which he has been translating from Polish. Walenty has lost a leg to mortar shell in a war, and so he is physically crippled. Benjamin is crippled too; he is emotionally crippled, a victim mostly of self-inflicted wounds.

When someone you know begins to whine, generally you would try to get away from the whiner at the very first chance you get. But the author's whining here, in the form of a very long letter of complaint, I read as if I were glued to my seat, forgetting even to reach for my cup of coffee in the microwave. This novel is funny, witty, acerbic, and at times vitriolic, mesmerizing, hilarious, hypnotic, dazzling, sad, and in turn heart-breaking and very touching, all at once! How did Jonathan Miles accomplish this feat?
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
For anyone who has been disgruntled by American Airlines' massive service disruption recently and the general malaise of the flight industry as a whole, this is a dexterously comic and surprisingly poignant first-time novel that will resonate. Jonathan Miles, a freelance magazine writer who has an enviable job as the cocktails columnist for The New York Times, has penned a story that takes the form of an exasperated and ultimately cathartic 180-page letter of complaint from Benjamin ("Bennie") Ford, a passenger demanding a full refund of $392.68 as he remains stranded at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, a concentration of congestion aptly described as "the sacrificial goat of air travel". What has triggered his scathing indictment is that a cancelled flight has meant he will miss the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

The situation is complicated by the fact that his daughter is gay, that the wedding is really a commitment ceremony and that he hasn't seen her since she was an infant. The reasons for the dysfunctional nature of the relationship are delved into by the sharp-tongued author as Bennie reveals himself as an alcoholic ex-poet and ex-bartender from New Orleans, the product of a schizophrenic painter mother and a Polish immigrant who ended up becoming an exterminator. He went through two failed marriages and now cares for his mother in a New York apartment as he earns a living as a translator of Polish fiction. Bennie's translation-in-progress is called "The Free State of Trieste", and it runs parallel with his own story. Miles goes back and forth between the epic tale of an injured Polish soldier in the aftermath of World War II and Bennie's own frustrating saga.
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64 of 84 people found the following review helpful
The first thing prospective readers should know, is that even though the story places the protagonist/author Benjamin "Benny" Ford in O'Hare Airport, eighty-percent of the story has nothing to do with the agonies of a delayed flight. As a constant nationwide traveler myself, when I heard about this book, I immediately imagined unlimited humorous plots and sub-plots all at the expense of the un-caring Airline industry and its echoing tentacles that encompass security, parking, bathrooms, etc. I envisioned myself (and other travelers like me) laughing, yelling, and pointing accusatory fingers at the hapless and sadistic airline characters portrayed in the book as I shrieked: "I told you I wasn't the only one who asked for a pillow"... "I wasn't the only one who wondered why the airlines wouldn't tell you where your connecting gates were located as the plane is pulling into a gate"... "or betting the passenger seated next to me that the attendant they promised would be waiting at the gate to help you with connections wouldn't be there..." etc. As I said, maybe twenty-per-cent of the story relates to the actual flight and airport.

But what the author does do, very intelligently and cleverly, is use the excuse of a delayed flight to start writing a letter to American Airlines to ask for his $392.68 to be refunded, since during the delay he figured he would not be able to get to Los Angeles in time for his daughter's wedding. His flight which started in New York and was supposed to have a forty-five minute layover in Chicago, instead was forced to land in Peoria and taken by bus to O'Hare Airport where the delay lasted for indeterminable hours through the night. The letter starts off "requesting" a refund, but quickly changes to "demanding" a refund.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars If you don't love the first page of this novel
If you don't love the first page of this novel, then you can stop right there. I found Bennie Ford's voice fairly irrestible and enjoyed this book a lot. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Billy Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual letter
Though the story is depressing, it is written with humor and feeling. The author has captured the helplessness of the main character in being stranded in an airport but writes... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Library lady
4.0 out of 5 stars It grows on you as you think about it
Not exactly what I was expecting, but it ended up being a decent read. Benjamin Ford is stranded at O'Hare Airport on the way to his estranged daughter's wedding in California. Read more
Published 12 months ago by retiredandlovinit
4.0 out of 5 stars A good comedy/drama
The novel doesn't finish strong in the comedic arena, transitioning more into a drama as the story progresses. Read more
Published 13 months ago by nick
1.0 out of 5 stars Very sad
I did not like this book. it is not funny at all. It is sad and depressing. I will not suggest this book to anyone.
Published 15 months ago by Isaac Barrett
3.0 out of 5 stars Loved the 1st chapter
The first chapter of this book is more than delightful--it's close to hilarious. And, every time the author goes back to airline and airport criticisms, he is spot on. Read more
Published 15 months ago by life is fun
5.0 out of 5 stars Best and most original novel I've encountered in a long time
I loved this book--plain and simple. It is clearly the work of an inspiring and truly original new voice in American fiction. Read more
Published 16 months ago by J. L. Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't delay reading this hilarious book.
This is a smart, funny, clever, and poignant book that will make you laugh and tug at your heartstrings.Don't wait until that next blizzard-related flight. Read it now.
Published 17 months ago by JeanieQ
2.0 out of 5 stars Average But Notable
I picked up Dear American Airlines after seeing it on an older NY Times Notable Books list and remembering seeing it on the shelves of many bookstores several years ago. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Joseph Landes
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Audio Listen ... The Narrator Brought Book To Life

The entire book is in the form of protracted letter(s) to American Airlines by Bennie Ford. Read more
Published on January 9, 2013 by Jennifer
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More About the Author

JONATHAN MILES's first novel, Dear American Airlines, was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of 2008 by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,, and others. It was also a finalist for the QPB New Voices Award, the Borders Original Voices Award, and the Great Lakes Book Award, and has been translated into six languages.

A former columnist for the New York Times, he is a Contributing Editor to magazines such as Details, Garden & Gun, Men's Journal, and Field & Stream. His Field & Stream cooking columns were collected in the 2013 cookbook, "The Wild Chef." His work has been included numerous times in the annual Best American Sports Writing and Best American Crime writing anthologies.

A former longtime resident of Oxford, Mississippi, he currently lives along the Delaware River in rural New Jersey. For more information, including a calendar of appearances, visit or

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