Debut Novel 'Dear American Airlines' Has Perfect Timing

Article excerpt

There could never be a debut novel more perfectly timed to enter the world than Jonathan Miles' "Dear American Airlines."

The book is a novel-length complaint letter written by one angry American Airlines passenger who has been stranded in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and might miss his daughter's wedding in Los Angeles.

Sound familiar? Just a few months ago, hundreds of thousands of actual American Airlines customers were stranded in airports across the country when the airline was forced to cancel 3,100 flights to check or redo something called "wiring bundles." The universe, or at least the Federal Aviation Administration, apparently has gift- wrapped a marketing campaign just for this book.

So we can credit Miles, the cocktails columnist at The New York Times, with excellent timing. But we also can credit him with a sharp and funny first novel that will outlast the particular troubles of the modern airline industry.

Bennie Ford's letter begins as a request -- check that, a profane demand -- for a refund of his $392.68 ticket. He's desperately trying to get to Los Angeles for the wedding of his estranged daughter.

From the first paragraph, we hear Bennie's distinctive voice: angry and outraged, literate and funny. If the canceled flight weren't awful enough, he has to sit in a "maldesigned seat in this maldesigned airport," a limbo without clocks or cigarettes, where everyone seems to be playing sudoku, "the analgesic du jour of the traveling class. …