Go to Amazon. Search for “Dear American Airlines.” When the page loads, click where it says “Click to LOOK INSIDE!” and then read the first page. (I know this is easy to do, I just rarely do it, to check out something before I decide to read it.) Or go to your local bookstore and do the same. If you are interested in playful language—playful, colorful language with edge, flair, zip, energy and accuracy—you will quickly be able to tell that “Dear American Airlines” is chock full of juicy, tangy writing. Even better, the stories that emerge from the pen of the angry and embittered Benjamin R. Ford are at turns touching, tender and compelling.
Benjamin R. Ford is trapped and the result is a volcano of anger intermixed with recollections of his life to date. “Dear American Airlines” is essentially a call for civility wrapped around a memoir about regret and lost opportunities. Ford is stuck in O’Hare International Purgatory Airport. Due to his own past mistakes, he has left behind a broken trail of disappointments. Facing the possibility he won’t be able to attend his daughter’s wedding, Bennie Ford takes the time to write it all down. O’Hare becomes one giant confessional.
Jonathan Miles gives Bennie Ford a lively mix of humor and self-analysis. The pages zip along. It’s not really a wedding he’s going to—he can’t call it a wedding since he’s discovered his daughter is marrying a woman named Sylvana. He notes that he is “one letter away” from being kin to a TV set. It helps that Ford is an ex-poet so he has the license to write with so much color and imagination. Among the references to writers and artists are Dante (a wise choice), Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Leo Tolstoy, Stephen Stills (!) and John Cale. He really had me with John Cale.
It also helps that Ford’s profession is as a translator so he can also relay the details of a novel about a Polish soldier returning from Italy, which merges niftily with the main theme at the end. (Although, as Ford notes, “you have to be careful about making connections in this world.”)
“Dear American Airlines” is Ford breaking down highlights from the movie of his life. It riffs on a variety of topics; there are more subjects than there are gates at O’Hare. If you have never stopped to wonder why there is no graffiti in airport bathrooms, “Dear American Airlines” will give you the chance to ponder this.
It’s also a story of love and loss, about destiny and control. There is melancholy and sentiment within Ford’s rage—he’s too keen an observer to be endlessly gruff. “Self-mythology, like drinking fourteen hours a day, will eventually grind you into residue,” he concludes. (It’s clear Ford was quite the drinker, but the even the familiar “recovering alcoholic” themes are fresh in Miles’ hands.)
Highly recommended for its structure—many free-form rants within a tightly scripted gaze in the rearview mirror of life. Also highly recommended for the terrific word choice and effortless writing style.