Dear American Airlines: A Novel by Jonathan Miles, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Dear American Airlines

Dear American Airlines

3.6 19
by Jonathan Miles

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Sometimes the planes don’t fly on time.

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 airport, he watches the clock tick and realizes that he will miss the ceremony. Frustrated,


Sometimes the planes don’t fly on time.

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 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. A man both sinned against and sinning, Bennie writes in a voice that is a marvel of lacerating wit, heart-on-sleeve emotion, and wide-ranging erudition, underlined by a consistent groundnote of regret 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, wicked humor, vulnerability, intelligence, and regret, Dear American Airlines gives new meaning to the term “airport novel” and announces the emergence of major new talent in American fiction.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[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

Parade Magazine

Dear American Airlines, Jonathan Miles' debut novel,begins as a scathing letter of complaint from a stranded traveler en route to his estranged daughter's wedding but quickly evolves in to a personal and surprisingly astute rant about life's challenges.

Richard Russo
…[a] fine first novel…I normally don't like narratives marinated in alcohol and self-pity, but here it works because Benjamin isn't macho about his drinking, and because the tragic details are grounded by brutal honesty and leavened by humor.
—The New York Times
Lisa Zeidner
It might be long for a letter, but as a novel, Dear American Airlines is refreshingly snappy and sassy…The novel's loose structure allows Miles to riff on everything from 9/11 and middle-age malaise to toilet-stall graffiti and the gecko in Geico commercials, while slyly moving his hero toward something of an epiphany. By the time Bennie finally collapses into Seat 31D, his readers have had quite a journey.
—The Washington Post
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)

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Library Journal

Benjamin Ford is stuck at O'Hare airport. All flights are cancelled for the night. He begins to write a letter to (appropriately enough) American Airlines to demand a refund. This letter turns out to be an autobiography, a sad story of a life wasted. Addressing the fictional American Airline worker in Houston, he talks about his schizophrenic mother, immigrant father, unhappy wife, and innocent daughter. He details his drinking problem and what his life looks like from within an alcoholic haze. He rails against the fate that doomed his career and that is keeping him from attending his daughter's wedding. When he is not writing, he heads out to the sidewalk to smoke cigarettes and to hear the stories of his fellow refugees. After a soul-searching night, he at last boards a plane and finds the will to go on at 35,000 feet. This first novel is a tale of loss and regret that allows a hint of hope and forgiveness to beckon from the final pages. Recommended for general collections.
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

Kirkus Reviews
A novel that captures the tedium of being stuck overnight in an airport can't help but become a little tedious in the process. The debut by magazine journalist Miles begins as a rant of complaint, evolves into an existential fable and threatens to become the world's longest suicide note. Ostensibly written by protagonist Bennie Ford, a former poet turned translator, the book makes for a long read, almost as long as the night Bennie spends at O'Hare Airport while trying to fly from his home in New York to his daughter's wedding in Los Angeles. He begins by demanding a refund from the airline, and perhaps an explanation, yet the bulk of the letter finds Bennie doing the explaining. In a series of flashbacks that crisscross all over chronology, he explains his mother's dementia and her troubled marriage to his late father. He explains how he has had no contact with his daughter for some 20 years, until an invitation arrived for her wedding. Actually, for her "commitment ceremony," for he hadn't known until then that she is a lesbian. He explains the circumstances leading to her conception, after he began a relationship with another poet whose attitude toward life-and toward Bennie-became far more pragmatic in the wake of motherhood. He explains his brief marriage (his only one, since he had never married his daughter's mother) and what a mistake it was. He explains his alcoholism, going into great detail over incidents at the bar where he worked and drank. Perhaps it's only coincidence that the air carrier he addresses throughout the book shares initials with the organization that helped him stop drinking, because many of these stories could have been told at an AA meeting. Finally, heintersperses the account of his life with his translation of a novel with some thematic parallels. Bennie tells us more about his night and his life than most would ever want to learn. Agent: Sloan Harris/ICM

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

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.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"[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

Meet 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.

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