AUTHOR: JONATHAN MILES
BOOK TITLE: DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES
PUBLISHER: MARINER BOOKS
This book is, on the surface, a letter written by an irate passenger stuck at the O’Hare airport, to the airline that has left him sequestered in the middle of nowhere.
The book is a rant; an epistolatory novel in which our protagonist, Benjamin R. Ford writes to American Airlines requesting a refund of the round trip ticket he has purchased to enable him fly from New York -La Guardia to Los Angeles LAX with a forty minute layover at Chicago O’Hare.
But somehow, through a snafu, he is stuck for hours at O’Hare without a clearly discernible reason.
So, to pass the time, unlike his fellow angry co-passengers who are busy verbally haranguing the airline staff, Bennie Ford, book translator, failed poet, estranged father of Stella aka Speck and divorced husband of Stella senior and long suffering son of Miss Willa decides to file a formal complaint.
Thus begins this improbable 180 page long debut novel which has captivated America, found a permanent perch atop the New York Times bestseller list, won the Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year and catapulted its author, Jonathan Miles, journalist and former food critic into the rarefied firmament of literary success.
Bennie has not seen his daughter for over two decades since her mother, his ex wife threw him out, when one day he receives an invitation card informing him that she is getting married. Bennie places a call to his daughter via the RSV number and offers to walk her down the aisle even though he has just learnt that his daughter Stella is gay and would be getting married to a woman.
He buys his ticket and sets off in time for LA where he hopes to attend some sort of rehearsal dinner to re-acquaint himself with his daughter. But the rip is truncated in Chicago and in a rage Bennie begins a letter: “Dear American Airlines, My name is Benjamin R. Ford and I am writing to request a refund in the amount of $392.68.”
But what starts out, on the surface, ostensibly as a rational, albeit angry rant against the failings of the American airline industry, soon becomes a historical document chronicling Bennie Ford’s dysfunctional life; his invalid mother, his misspent youth, his failed marriage, battle with alcoholism, his stint at rehab and a last ditch effort to make amends with his estranged daughter, the last bit which is responsible for his anger.
The novel is laugh-out-loud funny distilling nostalgia and regret into a heady cocktail that triggers laughs and sighs in equal measure. Bennie Ford has found a target for his anger but he is also all too aware that he is complicit in the quagmire in which he has found himself. As he puts it “The beauty of hindsight is that it is infinite. After all you could reasonably if acidly retort that this entire hash is my fault because twenty years ago I flushed my life down the toilet. Zing. Good one.”
Dear American Airlines is a visceral examination of the human condition through the eyes, life and imagination of a man sequestered in an airport departure hall.
Jonathan Miles, the author of this amazing debut novel, who used to write about food and restaurants, has done us all a good turn by turning his prodigious talents and literary gifts to fiction.