Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dear American Airlines

by Jonathan Miles

About 180 pages, this is a great short book. About a month ago, I recommended it to a library patron looking for a good book. At the time, I hadn't actually read it yet, and I explained that my recommendation was based on the endorsement of another library staffer and the fact that I wanted to read it. I'm so glad it didn't turn out to be a dud, and I'll definitely recommend it in the future. It's maybe not Top-10-of-all-time material, but it's easily among the best I've read in the last year or two.

Stranded at O'Hare, due to cancellation of his connecting flight, our hero starts to write an irate letter demanding a refund. While this sets him up as a sort of anti-corporate John Q. Consumer, the letter quickly becomes very personal, heavy with the emotional freight of why he is traveling, weighed down by the baggage of many failed relationships. It's not about the money, as they say; neither is it about the flight or the airline or the airport, all of which are metaphors for this man's life trajectory. Although "life is a journey" is arguably one of the oldest and most basic metaphors known to humanity, this framing of it is fresh and modern.

While reading, I was put in mind of Mrs. Dalloway and the way Woolf and other writers have a knack for stretching a day or a few hours into an entire book while at the same time, by opening a window into the interior life of a character, condensing a whole life into a day or a few hours. In Dear AA, as the protagonist's stranding persists, the letter grows in length and approximates a slightly more organized, though still rambling plenty far afield, version of stream of consciousness.

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