This story from Reuters caught my eye this morning. First-time novelist Jonathan Miles, on book tour for Dear American Airlines, is finding that his readings "resemble a series of support group meetings for disgruntled travelers." The novel tells the story of Bennie Ford, who gets stranded in the Chicago O'Hare airport on the way to his estranged daughter's wedding. Stuck in this "purgatory," realizing he will miss the ceremony, Bernie begins a letter, which moves from a demand for refund toward a rumination on his life misspent.
I should mention that I haven't read the novel. What has piqued my interest in the story is that the novel's schtick - this travel nightmare at a time when the airlines appear to be enraging the whole country - seems so apropos, so contemporary, that one wonders the role it played in its publication and in its attraction to readers. Miles describes the airline situation as "a device to be able to tell this character's story." A story, to some readers' dismay, not about airline travel.
From a reader on Amazon:
"As a constant nationwide traveler myself, when I heard about this book, I immediately imagined unlimited humorous plots and sub-plots all at the expense of the un-caring Airline industry and its echoing tentacles that encompass security, parking, bathrooms, etc...This is obviously a very talented writer, but I feel wholeheartedly that this book could have been much better. He had a "sitting-duck" in the airline industry that he could have pulverized, but he barely touched them."
Even readers who liked the book sometimes focus on its relationship to travel:
"For anyone who has been disgruntled by American Airlines' massive service disruption recently and the general malaise of the flight industry as a whole, this is a dexterously comic and surprisingly poignant first-time novel that will resonate."
As if in response, some of the critics, whose reviews (at least on Miles' website) are quite favorable, seem to find it necessary to point out the novel's novel-ness.
"Angry and outraged, literate and funny...a sharp and funny novel that will outlast the particular troubles of the modern airline industry." -Chad Roedemeier, The Associated Press
"Deceptively complex...Satire, to be sure, is part of the point, but Miles is after something bigger." -David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
It appears that Miles has written a pretty interesting novel, if people would only look at it that way. He said, "At readings, I'll take questions and people will just want to unload these stories that are all different in their complexities and all the same in their emotion. It always ends in this defeated sigh and grumble."