The year is off to a good start! I just finished reading my first novel of 2009, and loved every word of it. Jonathan Miles‘ Dear American Airlines is a terrific read. I confess, even though the novel showed up on a number of Best of 2008 lists, I was leery about whether a true novel could be contained within the comic conceit of an angry rant letter to American Airlines. Trust me, it can.
[Random association tangent: I tend to read most of my books via that most underutilized of places, the library. I put a number of the books called the Best of 2008 on the reserve list, and about FIVE of them have shown up for me at the exact same time. Has that happened to anyone else? Thus, expect a number of book posts for the next couple weeks as I read as fast as my fingers can turn the pages.]
The premise of the book is simple: Bennie Ford is stuck in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, about to miss the wedding of his heretofore-estranged daughter, and full of pent-up fury, begins to write the powers that be at American Airlines a letter. He asks:
So talk to me. Did banal old greed induce you to overschedule your flights, a la bank robbers unable to stop stuffing their bags despite the wails of nearing sirens? . . . Or do you plan so tightly and rigidly that the delay of one plane in, say, Dallas can cause a monumental backup akin to a stalled tractor-trailer on the George Washington Bridge at 8:30 am? Or, similarly, are airlines like yourself susceptible to something like the Butterfly Effect, so that a delay caused by a pickled passenger trying to board an early-morning flight in Ibiza can provoke a chain reaction, with delay piling upon delay, and then cancellation upon cancellation, until poor Chicago O’Hare – the sacrificial goat of air travel – is shut down completely?
But the genius of the book is that Miles manages to combine Ford’s extremely funny perspective with a tragic history of his own making; and then layers the story with yet another story within a story of the Polish novel Ford is translating, reinforcing the tragicomic air of the downtrodden hero. The language is lush and dense, and even the cameo characters are rendered fascinating from Ford’s eyes. It is a fantastic book and a perfect way to start out the year. If you experienced lengthy waits in airports over the holiday season, however, you might want to hold off reading it for a month or two.