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Dear American Airlines: A Novel Paperback – June 2, 2009
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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?Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I agree with the other reviewer that the story should only qualify for one star or no stars.
What comes to mind after reading Mr. Read more
A novel novel to be sure! I enjoyed parts of it, and thought the writing was good, but slow in places. The technique required some tortuous work to further the "plot". Read morePublished 13 months ago by S. Painter
This is a book about meeting people in the airport and looking back at life, filling time until your flight actually resumes. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Kathleen(SENIOR)
I couldn't finish the book. Who really likes to listen to a drunk telling disjointed stories?Published 14 months ago by Leah Ford
Written by a distraught man stuck in an airport over night. Rambled on overnight about nothing. Didn't hold my interest.Published 14 months ago by Amazon Customer
Strong voice. Acerbically funny and dark. Highly recommended.Published 15 months ago by Max Everhart
Great plot. A guy is stuck in an airport due to a "weather delay" and starts a letter to American Airlines. Read morePublished 15 months ago by David