by WAYNE HUNT & r & & r & Dear American Airline & r & by Jonathan Miles & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & onestly, reading about being stuck in an airport seemed pointless to me. The book jacket promised "Funny!" but I didn't expect much. (I didn't enjoy the 2004 Tom Hank's movie The Terminal, about an immigrant stranded for weeks in an airport terminal.) However, in his debut novel, Dear American Airlines, journalist Jonathan Miles finds meaning and humor in the lamented life of post-alcoholic, translator and has-been poet Bennie Ford.
While Bennie is flying cross-country to his daughter's wedding -- there has been no contact for over 20 years -- the flight is cancelled mid-air, stranding him in Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Bennie takes aim at the airline's management and pens a letter seeking a refund for his ticket. What ensues is a long complaint about everything that has gone badly in his life and how it all culminates in waiting at the airport. The letter takes on a life of its own, drifting back into childhood then forward through adulthood and relationships, all the while describing the various people and situations observed while waiting at the airport. Don't forget that this is a writer penning a letter -- a 180-page continuous letter! But Bennie makes fun of his own digressions, so you keep on reading, dumping your laughter into the descriptions of people and investing in his genuine blunt-force-trauma emotion.
Awkward at first, Bennie interrupts his own letter with passages of a Polish book that he is translating. This story -- about a soldier trying to rebuild his life after losing his leg -- is less engaging than the one that Bennie is telling about his own life, but you can't help but wonder where the two will meet.
A revelation is foreshadowed when, in aside, Bennie describes his take on a past event as "desire painting perception." Perhaps that's what the reader is supposed to take from Miles' long monologue -- that we shouldn't allow our wishes to distort what we know of reality. Or maybe Miles' humor conveys a deeper message about our disappointments in ourselves. In the end, though, all the digressions come together, making this book -- oops, this letter -- more about hope than anything else.