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Dear American Airlines: A Novel

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Dear American Airlines: A Novel [Paperback]

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

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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...

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Every critic was at first skeptical of this epistolary “gimmick novel” about a self-pitying, if lovable, loser, but by the end, all agreed that “the concept works beautifully” (Los Angeles Times). Miles’s effort produced an intelligent, playful, and, above all, moving story full of humor and well-written digressions. Bennie is a remarkably flawed but sympathetic man, and though his hilarious asides may not always advance the storyline, they certainly contribute to the fun. The only point of contention among the critics was the Polish novel-within-a-novel, praised by the New York Times but panned by the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times as ineffective and unnecessary. Short enough to read during a lengthy layover, this affecting and laugh-out-loud-funny tirade should stay with readers long after they’ve reached their final destinations.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"[Dear American Airlines] a heartfelt exploration of one man's psychic deterioration and the slim reed of hope to which, miraculously, he still clings...Miles has created a human being adrift, like all of us, in circumstances mostly not of his making and with no other choice but to try to muddle through."

-- David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

About the Author

JONATHAN MILES's first novel, Dear American Airlines, was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. A former columnist for the New York Times, he serves as a contributing editor to magazines as diverse as Field & Stream and Details, and writes regularly for the New York Times Book Review and The Literary Review (UK). A former longtime resident of Oxford, Mississippi, he currently lives with his family in rural New Jersey.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

My name is Benjamin R. Ford and I am writing to request a refund in the amount of $392.68. But then, no, scratch that: Request is too mincy & polite, I think, too officious & Britishy, a word that walks along the page with the ramrod straightness of someone trying to balance a walnut on his upper ass cheeks. Yet what am I saying? Words don’t have ass cheeks! Dear American Airlines, I am rather demanding a refund in the amount of $392.68. Demanding demanding demanding. In Italian, richiedere. Verlangen in German and ndeáoâanü in the Russki tongue but you doubtless catch my drift. Imagine, for illustrative purposes, that there’s a table between us. Hear that sharp sound? That’s me slapping the table. Me, Mr. Payable to Benjamin R. Ford, whapping the damn legs off it! Ideally you’re also imagining concrete walls and a naked lightbulb dangling above us: Now picture me bursting to my feet and kicking the chair behind me, with my finger in your face and my eyes all red and squinty and frothy bittles of spittle freckling the edges of my mouth as I bellow, roar, yowl, as I blooooow like the almighty mother of all blowholes: Give me my goddamn money back! See? Little twee request doesn’t quite capture it, does it? Nossir. This is a demand. This is fucking serious.
Naturally I’m aware that ten zillion cranks per annum make such demands upon you. I suppose you little piglets are accustomed to being huffed upon and puffed upon. Even now, from my maldesigned seat in this maldesigned airport, I spy a middle-aged woman waving her arms at the ticket counter like a sprinklerhead gone awry. Perhaps she is serious, too. Maybe, like me, even fucking serious. Yet the briefcase by the woman’s feet and her pleated Talbots suit lead me to conclude that she’s probably missing some terribly important meeting in Atlanta where she’s slated to decide something along the lines of which carbonated beverage ten zillion galoots aged 18–34 will drink during a specified half-hour of television viewing in four to six midwestern markets and I’m sure the ticket agent is being sweetly sympathetic to the soda lady’s problem but screw her anyway. So a half- zillion galoots drink Pepsi rather than Coke, so what? My entire being, on the other hand, is now dust on the carpet, ripe and ready to be vacuumed up by some immigrant in a jumpsuit.
Please calm down sir, I can hear you saying. Might we recommend a healthy snack, perhaps some sudoku? Yes, sudoku: apparently the analgesic du jour of the traveling class. That little game is what appears to be getting my fellow citizens through these hours of strandedness, hours that seem to be coagulating, wound-like, rather than passing. They say a watched pot never boils but baby it’s tough not to watch when you’re neck-deep in the pot. Just how many hours so far, I can’t say — not with any precision anyway. Why are there so few clocks in airports? You can’t turn your head more than ten degrees in a train station without hitting another clock on the wall, the ceiling, the floor, etc. You’d think that the smartasses who design airports, taking a hint from their forebears, would think to hang a clock or two on the walls instead of leaving the time-telling to the digital footnotes at the bottom of the scattered schedule screens. I take an oversized amount of pride in the fact that I’ve never worn a wristwatch since my thirteenth birthday when my father gave me a Timex and I smashed it with a nine-iron to see how much licking would stop its ticking (not much, as it turned out). But then airports weren’t designed for people like me, a fact becoming more and more obvious as I divide my present between smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk outside and drumming my fingers on the armrests of the chairs inside. But even more odious than the clocklessness, I might add, is replacing the beep-beep-beep of those passenger carts with digitized birdsong imitations. Birdsongs! I shouldn’t have to tell you that being run down by a twelve-foot sparrow is little improvement over being run down by a militarized golfcart. But then that’s a matter for the smartasses, not you, so mea culpa. We must be choosy with our battles, or so I’ve been told.
It occurs to me that none of this will do me a bit of good unless I state my particulars, to wit: My ticket — purchased for $392.68 as I’ve relevantly aforementioned and will continue to mention, as frequently as a tapdancer’s clicks — is for roundtrip passage from New York–LaGuardia to Los Angeles’s LAX (with a forty-five-minute layover at Chicago O’Hare; were there a clock nearby, I’d divulge the truer length of my layover, but it’s safe to say it’s edging toward eight hours, with no end in sight). In that eightish-hour period I’’ve smoked seventeen cigarettes which wouldn’t be notable save for the fact that the dandy Hudson News outlets here don’t stock mmy brand so I’ll soon be forced to switch to another, and while that shouldn’t upset me it does. In fact, it enrages me. Here’s my life in dangly tatters and I can’t even enjoy this merest of my pleasures. Several hours ago a kid in a Cubs windbreaker bummed one of mine and I swear if I spy him again I’ll smash him like a Timex. Cough it up, you turd. But then all this talk of smoking is giving me the familiar itch, so if you’ll excuse me for a moment I’m off to the sidewalk, as required by law, to scratch it.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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