51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When a flight is cancelled, let your imagination fly
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 -...
Published on June 3, 2008 by Yesh Prabhu, author of The Bee...
63 of 83 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "WE KNOW YOU HAD A CHOICE OF AIRLINES..."BUH-BUY"!"
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...
Published on July 5, 2008 by Rick Shaq Goldstein
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When a flight is cancelled, let your imagination fly,
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? Through the flight of his imagination and magic of his pen, I suppose.
Written in lively, abrasive, masculine, snappy, and yet strangely affecting prose, this book will delight, provoke, entertain and sadden the reader:
"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 my 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."
It is very rare to come across a first novel as charming and impressive as this. Jonathan Miles is an astonishing writer.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Witnessing A Disgruntled Air Traveler on the Verge of a Catharsis,
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.
What is most relatable in the book is the way the author covers the expected inconveniences of flying, whether it's the burden of post-9/11 security or the idle time chatting with fellow stranded travelers. The minutiae of Bennie's experience can start to feel repetitive at times, but I have to admit the best parts of the book are Bennie waxing philosophically as he rants to the poor American Airlines customer service agent to whom his letter is directed. Sometimes it comes across like a more thoughtful and thought-provoking version of Neil Simon's The Out-of-Towners. But more than that, what Miles does especially well is take a well-worn literary archetype - the bad father and husband seeking forgiveness - and turned him into a fresh, complex character worth discovering. The brief story evolves into a direction that is both bittersweet and satisfying, no small feat for a rookie novelist with obvious talent to burn.
63 of 83 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "WE KNOW YOU HAD A CHOICE OF AIRLINES..."BUH-BUY"!",
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. And from there is where the author (through the letter) proceeds to tell his entire sordid life story, despite being stuck in an airport, which he returns the reader to not frequently enough. Benny is a recovering alcoholic, failed poet, whose drinking ended his first marriage, which had produced the child whose wedding he is attempting to go to in Los Angeles, despite the fact that until he received the announcement, he hadn't seen or talked to his daughter since she was an infant and her mother grabbed her and fled in an attempt to escape the alcoholic destruction that Benny called a life. Along with the date and location of the wedding, Benny also was informed that his estranged daughter was marrying a woman.
If you have ever met a person at a bar or at a party, who is not only drunk, but "amped-up" on cocaine or any type of speed, and by simply saying hello, you have activated a non-stop-high-speed, at times extremely interesting and somewhat amusing, story of their life... but every decade or so of his story... he veers off the road... or takes the wrong off ramp... or finds (to him) interesting tangents that may involve a blemish on the wall... well... if you have... then the author's writing style will seem familiar to you. Don't get me wrong, there are some lyrically beautiful and cleverly written passages such as the first time he talks on the phone to his adult daughter: "WE LAUGHED TOGETHER AT THAT ONE, WHICH FELT GOOD - A SQUIRT OF OIL IN THE DECAYED AND RUSTED JOINTS OF OUR BOND." Or after he received the invitation in the mail which was the first connection between Father and daughter since infancy: "...AS IF I'D FOUND THE PALE CRUMB OF A TRAIL LEADING BACK TO MY LIFE. "Or after the first phone call between them had ended he summarized to himself: "AT TIMES OUR CONVERSATION WAS SO LIGHT AND EASY THAT IT DISTURBED ME; WITH THAT MUCH WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE, IT, WAS HARD TO BELIEVE THE BRIDGE COULD STILL BE STANDING." What derails the adrenaline fueled poetry is the author periodically (actually a little more than periodic) changing gears completely by leaving the currently discussed time and place crisis in his life story, and then he starts TRANSLATING A POLISH BOOK about Walenty Mozelewski and his war injury induced wooden leg.
This is obviously a very talented writer, but I feel wholeheartedly that this book could have been much better. He had a "sitting-duck" in the airline industry that he could have pulverized, but he barely touched them, and when the reader's emotions were vulnerable and in the palm of his hand, he would abruptly switch to Polish translation regarding Walenty and his wooden leg.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read!,
This is definitely one of my favorites. It never becomes cliche even though it touches upon common themes. I had such mixed feelings about Bennie -- he is generally unlikable, occasionally disgusting yet somehow I want to root for him -- to ultimately see him redeemed. I travel quite a bit and have experienced first hand some of the emotions and frustration or prolonged delays. But I could never put it into the perfect words like Jonathan Miles has. I also believe this is a book that men will like as it is definitely not "chick lit." What surprises me is that it is not front and center in every airport bookstore. A missed revenue opportunity for sure.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars On the whole, a bumpy ride,
This review is from: Dear American Airlines: A Novel (Paperback)
The idea of a novel that takes the form of an extended rant to an airline by a stranded traveler in an airport is one that resonates with a lot of us frequent fliers. There is the nub of a poignant idea in Jonathan Miles' debut novel--a father who has thoroughly messed up his life trying, perhaps too late, to make amends to a daughter he hardly knows. Much of Dear American Airlines, however, traverses numbingly familiar ground--my tolerance for drunken heterosexual men smashing up the lives of their loved ones has worn pretty thin. The gimmick of the protagonist's being a Polish translator and sprinkling the proceedings with liberal doses of his latest translation likewise fails to enlighten. Nevertheless, Miles displays an undeniable talent for witticisms that draw unexpected laughter. He can also pierce the heart with his emotional insights, most notably in the one adult conversation between the hero and his ex-wife just before the hopeful conclusion. One looks forward to another effort from this promising author.
26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Players and painted stage took all my love/And not those things that they were emblems of,
Or so wrote Yeats and that line pretty much describes Bennie Ford, always one or two steps removed from living life. That's his life and his profession(Miles makes him a translator). Ex-wife Stella could not agree more: " (you) are always drawn to the frozen image...not the real thing" or as she accuses Bennie of treating her and their child as "moveable props" and laments that "I never understood why life was never enough for you." (Actually Bennie as a college student edits a poem zine called "Rag and Bone Shop" which is a line that comes from one of Yeats' last poems-- The Circus Animals' Desertion. The title of this review is a line from that poem.Read the poem before the novel and you'll appreciate the novel more.) Bennie is stuck in Chicago with a huge flight delay foul up. He is mid way between the country, leaving his home in New York to attend his estranged daughter's wedding in LA. But the midpoint is not just geographic, it is metaphorical. He is equiposed between life and death(he contemplates suicide), stradled in declining middle age(a life of hard drinking does that to you), sorting out how he got to be the way he is(mentally ill mother, stolid immigrant Polish father, growing up in the South). The complaint letter is a funny and effective device for Bennie's internal monologue. And the beauty of this book is to see and feel and hear as Bennie works it out and answers this question---will I go forward or will I go back or will I just stay the same. The novel teaches us a lot as he struggles with the answer. Miles has a fresh way with the language"I felt as if I was having a pimple squeezed"(describing a clincally administered h/j) and 'to translate a literary work is to make love to a woman who will always be in love with someone else". The novel is only a 180 pages but Miles packs a lot into it. Give it a read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trapped in a Good Way,
I could stay trapped with Benjamin R. Ford anywhere, anytime, to soak up his insights and enjoy his rants. "Dear American Airlines" is essentially an appeal for order and civility wrapped around a memoir about regret and lost opportunities. Bennie Ford is in purgatory, in this case O'Hare International Airport. Due to weather, he's stuck. Due to his own past mistakes, he has left behind a broken trail of tears and disappointments. Facing the possibility he won't be able to attend his daughter's wedding, Bennie Ford takes the time to write it all down. It turns out O'Hare isn't purgatory--it's one giant confessional.
Sound bleak? It's not. Jonathan Miles gives Bennie Ford a lively mix of humor and self-analysis. The pages zip along. It's not really a wedding he's going to--he can't call it that since he's discovered his daughter is marrying a woman named Sylvana. He notes that he is "one letter away" from being kin to a TV set. It helps that Ford is an ex-poet so he has the license to write with so much color and imagination. Among the references to writers and artists -- Dante (naturally), Bukowski, Sylvia Plath (another good choice), Leo Tolstoy, Stephen Stills (!) and John Cale.
It also helps that Ford's profession is as a translator so he can also relay the details of a novel about a Polish soldier returning from Italy, which merges niftily with the main theme at the end. (Although, as Ford notes, "you have to be careful about making connections in this world.")
"Dear American Airlines" is chock full of Ford breaking down various highlights from the movie of his life. It's also a series of riffs on a variety of topics; there are more subjects than there are gates at O'Hare. If you have never stopped to wonder why there is no graffiti in airport bathrooms, "Dear American Airlines" will give you the chance.
It's also a deep story of love and loss, about destiny and control. There is melancholy and sentiment within Ford's rage--he's too keen an observer to be endlessly gruff. "Self-mythology, like drinking fourteen hours a day, will eventually grind you into residue," he concludes. (It's clear Ford was quite the drinker, but the even the familiar "recovering alcoholic" themes are fresh in Miles' hands.)
Highly recommended for its structure--many free-form rants within a tightly scripted gaze in the rearview mirror of life. Also highly recommended for the terrific word choice and effortless writing style.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "For the first time in my life it wasn't me that blew it",
This review is from: Dear American Airlines: A Novel (Paperback)
"Dear American Airlines,
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 am rather demanding a refund in the amount of $392.68. Demanding demanding demanding."
So begins Jonathan Miles' offbeat novel, "Dear American Airlines," which is either a slight novel at 180 pages or an epic, profane rant of a letter depending on how you look at it. The aforementioned Bennie Ford has gotten stranded overnight at O'Hare airport on the way to his daughter's wedding in California, and is now in danger of missing the ceremony completely unless he can catch a flight out of there by 8:00 AM. Bad enough, but it becomes immediately apparent that there was a lot more at stake for Bennie by getting to the wedding than it would seem at first glance. This was to be the first time he saw his estranged daughter, Stella, since her toddler years - his wedding invitation the first communication between them since Bennie's ex-wife took her away from him all those years ago. And it was supposed to go well; Stella was even open to the possibility of letting him walk her down the aisle - provided that they meet the day before the wedding and talk things over first. Now that opportunity is gone forever since Bennie is spending the night before the wedding moving between a series of uncomfortable chairs in Chicago, hopeless miles from the rehearsal dinner. This was to be more than Stella's wedding for Bennie: this was supposed to be his big shot at atonement.
Understandably, he is outraged. Understandably, he needs to vent his enormous frustration. So he begins composing a venomous letter to American Airlines with the above stated intention of claiming a refund for the flight. But by page four he has begun his first digression and started telling his life story instead, leaving the narrative to go back and forth between Bennie's past and his present situation.
Ultimately, It isn't the refund that matters to Bennie, it's the chance to be heard. To be understood. To unburden himself of the details of his misbegotten life - even if, as he expects, the peon at American Airlines who receives his letter never even reads the entire thing. Bennie's story is predictable, yes. His mother was a bi-polar artist prone to suicide attempts and runaways - with young Bennie in tow. He was once a promising poet but currently makes a living translating other writer's work into English. He threw everything he ever had (marriage, career, fatherhood, etc.) away thanks to alcoholism and has only been sober five years. He has turned his life into a ravaged, scarred mess and never did know how to go about fixing things. Until this opportunity presented itself, that is.
Bennie's past may be predictable, but Miles' fresh perspective and unique approach make this novel new(ish) enough to be worth your while. The stumbling points are the passages Bennie throws in from the book he is currently translating, which feel apropos of nothing and distract from the real attraction that is Bennie's plight. Ultimately, these parts feel like padding more than anything else and don't really add to the novel's substance, which is a shame. Because aside from that this novel is pretty darned clever.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eat Your Heart Out, James Frey,
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Every writer who has been stranded in an airport is going to mutter "Why didn't I think of this?" when they pick up Jonathan Miles' epistolary first novel. Dear American Airlines is not a book about the perils of commercial flight (although they play a supporting role here). It's a novel about the perils of modern life. Especially the perils of modern life with alcohol.
The protagonist, Benjamin Ford, is stranded in Chicago's O'Hare as he begins, but much of the narrative, a rant told largely in flashbacks, is set in New Orleans where he grew up and got his girlfriend, Stella, pregnant with a daughter, also named Stella, or Speck, the nickname he gave her when her conception was discovered and abortion was considered. He hasn't seen either of them since the older Stella kicked him out and moved to California with the baby twenty-something years ago. Now, little Stella, whom he boozily promised he would walk down the aisle on her wedding day, is getting married to a woman named Syl, and Bennie is determined to be there.
I read Bennie's attempts to deal with unmanageable air traffic problems as a metaphor for his many years of struggling to manage alcohol without giving it up. But Bennie is sober now, down to his last vice of cigarettes, and we learn of his childhood with Miss Willa, his mother who now lives with her adult child, and his father, Henryk Gneich, a survivor of Dachau who died when Bennie was a teenager. From his father he got his love of poetry and the language of Poland, from which he makes his living. His mother, in many ways, has been a child both he and his father had to care for. But she loves Bennie, and she continues to show it as she writes brief messages to him on Post-its.
Miles covers much of the ground familiar to readers of memoir from James Frey and Augustin Burroughs, but he's far more disciplined. Part of the impact of this novel is that he manages to convey a lifetime of love and suffering into 180 pages. Miles writes about cocktails for the New York Times, but so tenderly does he write from Bennie's point of view that it's hard to believe he's not a recovering alcoholic. Either way, this is one impressive fiction debut.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A poignant and entertaining tale of losing it all and finding oneself,
This summer you may find yourself at the mercy of the airline industry, paying high prices and risking canceled flights. Or you may opt for train or car travel and long for a good book to absorb yourself in as the landscape rolls by the windows. Even if you plan to stay at home this vacation season, DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, Jonathan Miles's debut novel, will satisfy your desire for a slim and funny but also quite thoughtful read.
Bennie Ford, an aging alcoholic poet who makes his living translating Polish literature into English, is angry. His daughter is getting married, and he is stuck at O'Hare Airport. Between bouts of working on his latest translation, a depressing post-war tale by his friend Alojzy, he writes a letter to American Airlines, meaning to express his displeasure at being stranded by the canceled flight. The letter becomes, however, both a screed and lament. He rails against the injustices he suffered while wallowing in guilt over his mostly wasted life. His letter is full of righteous indignation and regret but is very witty as well.
Raised by an eccentric couple, a beautiful schizophrenic and a quiet Polish immigrant who survived a German concentration camp, Bennie grows up with romantic notions but allows them to be drowned in alcohol. His relationship with Stella is passionate, brief and doomed, leaving him a heartbroken young father. His daughter, also named Stella but whom he calls Speck, grows up without him. But a wedding invitation stirs up decades of feelings and memories, and, stuck in the airport, he has plenty of time to write it all down.
From his humid and eccentric New Orleans childhood, to a carefree and artistic year in Poland, from his failings as a partner and father to his middle age spent with his ailing mother, Bennie's letter is his confession and autobiography. The sights and sounds of the airport distract him from his tale (but add much-needed comic relief for readers), and his work on Alojzy's book, excerpted throughout, provide a story within a story challenging us to find (not always apparent) parallels between Bennie and the main character.
Like a comedic Charles Bukowski, Bennie knows he is his own worst enemy. He has been traumatized by life mostly because of his own horrible choices. As a translator he finds philosophic and poetic justice: taking the ideas, the work, even the successes of others and putting his own creative, if mostly invisible and unacknowledged, energy into them. With this letter he puts it all on the line: his boozy mistakes, his selfish love, his hope, his belief in transformation and change, and what poetry is left in him. This letter is Bennie Ford's masterpiece, but his dream is to make it to his daughter's wedding.
In DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, Bennie starts out angry and frustrated, but by the end of the book, and letter, he is feeling much better and hopeful for a second chance. Miles's first novel is a quick and wild read full of great American themes like redemption, heartbreak, struggle and movement. He has succeeded in writing a very readable book with a unique format. Bennie's tale is at once familiar and surprising, and this summer readers will want to be trapped with Bennie in the airport as he shares his poignant and entertaining tale of losing it all and finding oneself.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman
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Dear American Airlines: A Novel by Jonathan Miles (Paperback - June 2, 2009)