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Dear American Airlines
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Product Description

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.

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...

Customer Reviews:

  • Ok
    This book is ok. It's kind of all over the place and I was confused at first. But once I figured out how it flowed I liked it a little better. It still wasn't what I expected and I was a little disappointed....more info
  • Eat Your Heart Out, James Frey
    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....more info
  • A bumpy flight
    This book surprised me. It is written in an ironic complaining voice, funny but not terribly moving. As I read on, however, I was captured by the injured life that unfolded. What more can you ask of a novel. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry....more info
  • loooong story
    this story was long and boring to me, even when skimming through the polish translation pages, which didn't seem to lead anywhere, i was bored by the self-absorbed former addict. The words were there, but the feelings never reached me. Spurts of the past, interspersed with cigarette breaks...felt like having one myself. I kept trying because I had heard so many good reviews of it, but it never arrived for me....more info
  • dear american airlines
    i loved this book. i laughed and laughed. intelligent and well written. bravo to the author....more info
  • Too much whining
    I only read 70 pages, but found it difficult to read - kept waiting for something to happen other than the author whining about his life and the predicament in which he finds himself because his flight was canceled. Didn't really get the whole Polish story intertwined. Without dialog, it's too much repetititive prose. Witty in parts, but not enough to sustain me to the end of the short novel....more info
  • Not David Sedaris, as was suggested to me
    Like so many other reviewers, this is not the book that I was expecting to read. I picked this book up because it was recommended to me because I enjoy David Sedaris. This book is not comparable to a Sedaris book, although in my opinion, it is not better or worse, just different. I did find myself struggling to appreciate the book as it was and abandoning my preconceived notions of what the book would be. I am glad that I was able to set my expectations aside and enjoy this book for the story it had to provide me.

    I began reading the book at O'Hare and continued reading it on an American Airlines flight. Although it was nice to explore the setting, which is accurately described, the location did not allow me to get as much from the book as I feel I could have. The translations, in particular, were difficult to read and I am sure that they contain more information on Bennie than I was capable of recognizing.

    Dear American Airlines is a wonderful, sad, and moving story. I am glad that I was able to move past what I thought the book would be and enjoy this read.

    ...more info
  • What's in a thought.
    Even while feeling the anger and frustration of flight cancellations, it is not enough just to write to American Airlines for a refund. All the now conscious thinking regarding the consequences, or imagined consequences of this predicament, are coming to mind.

    Trying to stay busy in an airport by doing some translating work becomes interspersed with the imagined emotional responses of this flight cancellation. Boored behavior exhibits itself.

    I find it fascinating to read how a mind can jump from one subject to another--although we all do this all day, every day.

    Scary thing, the mind....more info
  • Fun Quick Read
    I really wish I had this book when I was stuck at the airport, it's a fast and fun read. You wonder how an author can write a book as one long letter to American Airlines and she makes it happen. I enjoyed the storytelling and the flashbacks. ...more info
  • Are You Serious???
    Ok, can we say too many unnecessary cuss words? It is not even likable. You can't even get past the front page without being assaulted with a cuss word in every sentence. Can't he tell his story without all that garbage? The story lacks character and plot that flows and captures the reader. It is boring and filled with unnecessary ramblings....more info
  • Best book I've read this year!
    Not since I've read Junot Diaz's "Oscar Wao" have I so enjoyed every minute of a book. So much story in this slim little volume! Bennie's story, his mother and father's, ex-wives, and Walenty, his character in the book he is translating, WoW! . Yes, it's dark, twisted, but hilarious with precisely drawn characters. I laughed and cried with poor Bennie. Like all of us, he is still trying to make sense of the world and his place in it at age 53. And despite the fact that he has been a party to life swirling him around its toilet bowl, he leaves us hopeful. Jonathan Miles is a brilliantly talented writer. I hope that he receives recognition for this fine novel. I am going to eagerly look to find everything else he has written and pray that we have more novels from him. ...more info
  • Brilliant...
    Benny Miles is 53, single and a failed poet who now translates Polish novels.

    "The last poem I published was in 1965; the last poem I wrote, not counting the ditty above, came maybe a year later. It would be false modesty to say no one noticed though just barely. Mostly, it was an amicable split. That great old line of Larkin's - `I haven't given up poetry; poetry has given me up' - doesn't apply here. No, exhausted from decades of quarreling, we each gave up on the other."

    He is a recovering alcoholic who is twice-divorced - the first being a "shot-gun marriage" after hot summer fling with Stella who learned she was pregnant - the second marriage lasting shorter than the blink of an eye. Stella dumped the boozing, "searching" Benny and took their infant daughter Stella (aka as Speck) and moved to California to live with her Parents. Told him that she'd had it with the lack of love in the marriage and his indifference to her and to Speck. Benny has minimal contact with his daughter. Years later, Speck invites Benny to her wedding - Benny accepts in an effort to reconcile and make amends. He buys a $392.86 ticket on American Airlines. The flight is re-routed to Peoria for inexplicable reasons and he has to bus to O'Hare to catch his connecting flight. The flight is rescheduled for the next day putting him on the edge of being late for one of his daughter's most important life events - on the cusp of failing to be there for her yet once again - while he is stranded with thousands of other hostile and disgruntled passengers pleading to catch an earlier flight.

    There are 4 plot lines weaved in this thin 180-page novel:

    1) Benny writing a complaint letter to American Airlines and waiting at O'Hare trying to catch the next flight. (1/6 of the novel)

    2) Benny writing about his parents, his Father a holocaust survivor turned mechanic and his Mother a "case for a psychological bomb squad."

    "They were less parents than cellmates and we all privately marked off the days of our confinement. My father won this grim contest by dying when I was fifteen - the victim of an unexpected heart attack that struck him in his sleep. For so sudden a death, and at a such a pregnable age for me, it was a strangely unemotional passing. He was only forty-eight but his death felt like that of a nursing home patient who'd been bedridden and cancer-racked for year: an act of mercy, a gift rather than a theft. I don't even remember even crying at his funeral. I felt as if I was waving goodbye as he embarked upon a new and better adventure. Send me a postcard, Tata. Be brave."

    3)Benny's marriage to Stella and the birth of their daughter.

    4) Benny translating a Polish Novel called "The Free State of Trieste" - a story about a soldier (Walenty) who is hit with a mortar shell and treated by an incompetent surgeon leading to his leg being amputated. The solider is recovering from the trauma and trying to find his way home to Poland when he encounters other situations beyond his control. While Walenty seemingly is battered by forces outside of his control, Benny wrestles with whether he made bad choices and was perhaps too indifferent about key relationships (Stella & Speck) which he now regrets. Both are seeking a better way forward in life.

    "You can't escape what you are be it possum or poet. Maybe you get what you get. Or as the old saw goes: You buy your ticket, you take your chance."

    Overall, my assessment of the book:

    1) Beware: "R" rated (coarse language, sexual content)

    2) Brilliant writing. Hard to imagine this is his first book. Author is able to weave highly intelligent rambling into slapstick, wit, humor, cynicism, sarcasm and heart breaking/tugging moments - trading 4 story lines listed above like alternatively eating sugar and lemon and back again.

    3) If you've ever been stranded at O'Hare, Miles will place you there as if you sat with him in an overnight layover - capturing the environment, the mood, the shops, the security, the agonizing wait in uncomfortable chairs.

    4) The book is 180-pages but dense. Not necessarily a page turner. The injection of the plot line regarding Walenty in the Polish to English translation may be too ambitious (or too much) for a short 180 page book - therein lies my 4 rating instead of a 5.

    The book is worthy...
    ...more info