Evan's Reviews > Dear American Airlines

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan  Miles
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May 06, 2010

it was amazing
Read in May, 2010

Okay, so I hope the crystalline clarity of this review isn't tainted by the fact that I read it inappropriately drunk in a Mexican restaurant, but somehow, I think the protagonist would be just fine with that.

So the concept of the novel is that a simpering literature translator is trapped in Chicago's O'Hare airport by American Airlines, who, he claims, is ignoring the beautiful weather outside to ruin his life. What starts as a blistering rebuke to AA (coincidentally the same initials as Alcoholics Anonymous, a likeliness commented on by the narrator many times) then modulates into a memoir of Bennie (that's his name)'s sordid past.

We learn how he was trapped in alcoholism and lost his wife and child, and frittered away his talent, and so on. Miles walks the awkward line between making his narrator unlikeable, and then making you want to root for him. Unsympathetic narrators are tricky for fiction writers, because they can undermine the credibility of the whole tale, and if I had to suspect why this one is panned by reviewers, I'd guess that has something to do with it. So I'm certainly against the grain when I say that it's awesome.

The fact is, even with some really gritty subject matter (cumshots in hair; how classy), this novel manages to be extremely touching, and sort of warped in that post-postmodern way. Bennie is the kind of writer who's come from successions and generations of broken homes (his father a Dachau survivor/his mother a manic depressive) so that it asks the somewhat eerie question if there is some illness at the heart of society that makes people the way they are. Miles focuses this concern on the hyper-weird Bennie J. Ford, author of the letter to American Airlines.

An actual laugh line from the book: "We circled O'Hare for an hour before the pilot informed us he was landing in Peoria. Peoria! In my youth I thought Peoria was a fictional place that Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis had cooked up one night at the tail end of a gin bender. But no, it exists."

So, though this isn't the kind of book that wins a Pulitzer, the reason I think it's so damned great is because it perfectly captures the intellectual and cynical verve that our generation has. Some of the slang is just so right on that it feels like hearing your drunkard English professors off on a rant.

So read this book, already. You won't find it in an airport bookstore, though.
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