Saturday, August 23, 2008

You ain't goin' nowhere

In a happy coincidence of fate, I read Jonathan Miles' Dear American Airlines while paying the true price for a bargain basement week-end getaway - in other words, while spending upwards of 27 hours sitting in airports waiting for planes inexplicably missing in action.

Benjamin Ford, on his way from New York to Los Angeles, finds himself stranded overnight at O'Hare International Airport. He passes the time smoking cigarettes with other marooned addicts -- a complicated endeavor involving a rigorous security re-check each and every trip -- and composing his complaint letter to American Airlines. No one is happy, but Bennie's plight is particularly compelling: he's a father on the verge of missing his daughter's wedding.

Actually, he's a father on the verge of missing the wedding of his daughter whom he has not seen in more than thirty years. Against Jonathan Miles' pitch-perfect backdrop -- the uniquely oppressive feel of airport entrapment, the peculiar quality of artificial light as daylight fades, the hollow echo of a nearly empty airport in the middle of the night -- the details of Bennie's life as a husband and father emerge. Hilarious, heart-breaking, and, occasionally, as uncomfortable and grimy as a plastic airport chair at 3:00 in the morning, Bennie and American Airlines confront the darkness.

Jonathan Miles is the cocktails columnist for the New York Times; this is his first novel. Dear American Airlines rises well above its complaint letter gimmick and its rather obvious metaphor of missed connections. On the other hand, if there's a complaint letter in your future, this novel offers some seriously inspiring lines. Don't miss it!

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Wow; that sounds great and I must get hold of it. Thanks for the review.