Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

Benjamin R. Ford--Bennie--is stuck at O'Hare trying desperately to get to the West Coast to attend the commitment ceremony of his long estranged daughter, Stella. Bennie has been many things--a drunk, a poet, an academic, a husband. He pushed his world away from him but there's a small chance it can come around to him again if he can just get out of the g-ddamn airport. With his flight canceled and time ticking away, he angrily starts writing a letter to American Airlines demanding his money back for the tremendous inconvenience, the extent of which, they'll never know. The whole book, a slight novel clocking in at only 180 pages, is his ongoing, self-revealing pissed-off missive to American.

Miles writes about alcohol as a "drinks" writer for the New York Times but if he only has one novel in him (though I hope not), he has acquitted himself most admirably. In describing his parents tortured relationship, he says "They were less parents than cellmates." When his father dies when Bennie was 15, he recalls it this way: "He was only forty-eight but his death felt like that of a nursing home patient who'd been bedridden and cancer-racked for years: an act of mercy, a gift rather than a theft." I kept re-reading these little bits and sucking on them like a hard candy I love to eat but rarely have. Dear American Airlines is rich, it is funny, it is quotable and it is heartbreaking.

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