When faced with an interminably long airport delay, which is all too common these days, the traveler has several options. He could spend the endless layover drinking at T.G.I. Friday's. He could reread The Da Vinci Code or some other book found at the airport newsstand, or spend as much time as possible interacting with his cell phone rather than his fellow travelers. Or, if he were Bennie Ford, the hero, if you can call him that, of Jonathan Miles' first novel, Dear American Airlines, he could write a book-length letter of protest to the airline that grounded him and blamed the weather when there's not a storm in sight.
Bennie has reason to be angry. He was on his way from New York to Los Angeles to attend his daughter's wedding. There's more anger surrounding the fact that he hasn't seen his daughter since she was a baby and that he never really tried to clean up his life so that he could be part of hers.
The letter reads like a sort of deathbed confession, a tale of the sins he has committed and the wrongs done to him, the story of a man who grew up with a schizophrenic mother who was always half-heartedly attempting suicide and an immigrant father who survived the concentration camps only to become an exterminator himself. A formerly somewhat famous poet who struggled for years with alcoholism, Bennie is now a translator, and his letter also shares the story of the book he is working on - the tale of a World War II soldier mistakenly sent to the wrong town, who wonders what would happen if he never got back on the train to his old hometown.
This gritty, hilarious, heartbreaking novel illustrates a life gone awry, the regret of years lived without notice and the hope of finally being able to make a change. Readers will root for Bennie to get on his plane and start making up for the lost years when he gets off. A perfect read for summer airport delays, Dear American Airlines just might get readers thinking differently about that idle time.
Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas and still hates flight delays.