Dear American Airlines / Jonathan Miles

Life has not gone quite as Bennie Ford has expected.  At age fifty-three, divorced and caregiving for his mother following her stroke, he finds himself stranded in the purgatory of O’Hare International Airport, with his flight to California cancelled.  This is of especial importance since he is traveling to his estranged daughter’s wedding that will take place the next day.  Stuck with thousands of other fuming travelers, there is little likelihood that he will make it to the ceremony since all flights have been grounded for the night.

A failed poet turned Polish book translator, Bennie does what he does best when confronted by this gridlock; he begins to write an angry letter to American Airlines to vent his frustration and to demand a refund.  What begins as a rant ultimately becomes a lament for a life gone awry, a personal history of missed opportunities.  In the course of his rambling letter, he shares both the highlights and remorse he feels looking back over the trajectory of his adulthood.

Fortunately, Bennie is a character most people will be thrilled to spend time with.  A chain smoking recovering alcoholic, he has the ability to strike up interesting conversations with complete strangers.  And blessed with a lacerating wit, he has a writer’s keen eye in observing the world around him.  This novel blends humor, outrage, regret, and the humbleness of a man who is not so much a reformed sinner as a person simply hoping he might have a chance to do the right thing for once in his life.

It is sure to be a book that resonates with anyone who has faced the frustration of being stuck in an airport, held captive by a bureaucracy that is politely indifferent to the upset they have caused.  I found myself from the opening page identifying with Bennie’s situation and cheering on his efforts to rectify it.  What starts out as an irreverent rant turns into a humorous, eloquent portrayal of a man coming to terms with life’s reality.  Honest to the bone, Bennie makes for a fascinating companion, no matter how long the journey takes to complete.

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