Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vicarious Venting

If you’ve ever had a frustrating experience as an airline passenger or would-be passenger and had thoughts about the airline too black to say out loud, this is the novel for you: Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles. Bennie Ford is a fictional passenger stranded at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago while on his way from New York City to his daughter’s wedding in California. Actually it’s a little more complicated than that. Bennie has been estranged from his daughter Speck since she was an infant and his daughter is marrying another woman. Ironically the last argument that Bennie and his wife Stella had was over his remark about walking his daughter down the aisle.

When it becomes clear to Bennie that he is not going to get to California in time for either the rehearsal dinner or the ceremony, he starts the letter of the title to American Airlines demanding a refund of his airfare. He finishes the letter at the end of the book 180 pages later. Nothing and no one escape his rage and attack…politically incorrect but very funny. And lest you think it is all and only pop culture there are many classical and literary references. (Note to self: re-read Dante's Purgatorio).

Bennie is by profession a translator. The author has used an interesting literary device of having Bennie tell the story of the novel that he is translating intermittently with his own life story. Two stories: that may be the formula for many successful books.

Many demons are lurking beneath the surface humor and Bennie has had his share of struggles. But the last few pages, in which Bennie reconnects by phone with his former wife (the mother of the bride) and is, finally, back aloft on his way to LAX, are some of the most life affirming that I have read in a long time.

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