Dear American Airlines: A Novel

( 17 )

Overview

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 ...

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Dear American Airlines: A Novel

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Overview

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.

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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

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)

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

  • ISBN-13: 9780547237909
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/2/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 623,736
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 17 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

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1 Star

(2)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 18 of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    He whines, he rants, he flubs

    For a short book, it took a long time to read. As I think about it, I should have pitched it. What a waste of time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 31, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Good Read

    Off beat and off the wall. Funny jokes (colorful to coarse language and sensitive themes peppered at times throughout) and pieces of a man's life, the story turns downright random in spots, but still amusing and fitting in a bizarre way. At other times it was poignant and unbearably sad. A maimed life and family dynamic, bittersweet. It's not the typical cliched happy ending, it leaves you wanting yet satisfied.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2008

    The magic of Jonathan Mile¿s pen

    This is an astonishing novel. It is funny, witty, acerbic, mesmerizing, hilarious, hypnotic, dazzling, sad, and at times heart-breaking and very touching, all at once! How did Jonathan Miles accomplish this feat? Through the flight of his imagination and the 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. 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. Jonathan Mile's prose is mesmerizing: ¿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.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2013

    Not recommended

    Did not want to finish it. Would not recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2010

    Acerbic treat

    "Dear American Airlines" is not only, as you might think, a diatribe against an airline disguised as a letter; it's much more than that. It's a man at the end of his rope, stuck at O'Hare Airport due to a delayed flight, musing over his life's low (many) and high (few) points which brought him there, on a flight to California to give his daughter away at a wedding. The man in question is a failed poet from New Orleans, now a translator. The richness of the novel comes from his alcoholic troubled past and his attempts to make amends with his wife and daughter. Stunningly written, Jonathan Miles's acerbic novel is worth reading. It only falls with an excerpted "translated text" meant to serve as a counterpoint to the translator's own life, but that's a minor flaw. Recommended reading.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2009

    Great Subject

    enjoyed the main thought of the book

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 20, 2009

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    Posted July 11, 2010

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    Posted September 5, 2009

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    Posted November 18, 2010

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    Posted April 24, 2009

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