Book Review – “Dear American Airlines” by Jonathan Mills

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The book Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Mills truly puts the word novel in novel. I honestly thought when I bought the book Dear American Airlines that it was about the airline industry. I vaguely remembered hearing that the book was good but missed that this is a novel written entirely in the form of one very very long complaint letter to American Airlines from a passenger stranded in O’Hare airport overnight and missing his daughter’s wedding.

What starts as a complaint letter turns into an autobiography of the misspent life of the author, Benjamin “Bennie” Ford, who is a poet and translator of Polish literature. Woven through this story is the story of the latest Polish novel that the main character is translating. It is a dark and profane novel but somehow charming at the same time. Bennie’s drinking, failed marriages, suicidal mother all become grist for a novel that weaves comfortably between diatribe, introspection and poetic account. A surprisingly wonderful and captivating novel.

Author Elizabeth Gilber says of the book:

The novel relays the tale of Bennie Ford, a man who is marinating like a cocktail olive in the sour middle-aged juices of his own mistakes, but who has decided to redeem himself completely by attending the wedding of his estranged daughter.

Now, as some of us have learned from painful personal experience, it’s not always easy to redeem a lifetime of screw-ups in one weekend, but that doesn’t deter Bennie from heading to the airport to fly off to what he has decided is the most important event in his life. (The fact that he doesn’t seem to notice that the wedding should actually be the most important event in his DAUGHTER’S life, not his, is an early clue of his particular breed of hilarious narcissism.)

But at the airport is where his troubles begin, as American Airlines cancels his flight and thus,as far as he is concerned, destroys his life. What follows is a complaint letter raised to the level of high narrative art.

I have never before encountered a novel written in the form of a complaint letter, and we can safely assume there will never be another such after this one, just because Miles has created an inimitable story here, one which, despite all the dark wit of its narrator, leaves room in the sad margins for real heartbreak, real feeling, real life. This is the most entertaining first novel I’ve read in a long while, as well as a searing cautionary tale. Bring it to the airport with you next time you fly somewhere to change your life…

I loved it. It is a bitter journey of self discovery but a very good read. I can imagine that American Airlines and their executives are less thrilled with the idea.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

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