Monkey Wrench Books Volunteer run, collectively operated independent book store and community space. Books on anarchism, history, eco, DIY, race/gender, politics, current events, literature and periodicals. www.monkeywrenchbooks.org 110 E. North Loop, Austin TX 512.407.6925 professional word nerd, Miles apparently feels justified in subjecting readers to his self-conscious obsession with language. The book opens with a built-in revision of just this sort: “My name is Benjamin R. Ford and I am writing to request a refund in the amount of $392.68. But then, no, scratch that: Request is too mincy & polite, I think, too officious & Britishy, a word that walks along the page with the ramrod straightness of someone trying to balance a walnut on his upper ass cheeks. Yet what am I saying? Words don’t have ass cheeks!” And on like that. Normally an author might consider each of those descriptors \(mincy, polite, Britishy, officious, ramrod straightness best does the job. But Ford-Miles throws them all in. There’s a lot of thisliterary onanism on Miles’ part passing for character development on Ford’s. Miles seems to think that Ford is such a tool that readers will believe any ridiculous detail. For example, Ford is an alcoholic, smokes Lucky Strikes, wears a tweed cap, types on an old Underwood, and says he was “raised by poetry,” by Keats, the That’s believable bordering on clich. Then he adds this: “Alliteration bewitched me to such an extent that in my undergraduate years I romanced, in succession, a Mary Mattingly, a Karen Carpenter \(not Lockwood” That’s just implausible, and Ford-Miles knows it, because he adds, “as if culling my dates straight from the pages of a comic book.” Later, Ford claims to see other trapped passengers sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes, then adds, “Cardboard boxes! Where did they find appliance-sized boxes in an airport?” Indeed, that comment could have been typed in by Miles’ editor and accidentally printed. Miles seems not to know that acknowledging an unlikelihood doesn’t make it more believable, just as admitting that a joke isn’t terribly funny doesn’t make it any funnier. Finally, Ford just isn’t very likable. There’s no crime in having a total failure for a protagonist, in making him try too hard, indulge himself, plead for atten tion, and then insult his audiencesince Martin Amis, it’s practically de rigueuras long as there’s a payoff for the reader. A cameo doesn’t count as a payoff. Here, Ford describes his imagined reader: an American Airlines employee housed at company headquarters in Fort Worth: “I suspect you’re young, or youngish; sifting through the corporate slush pile is the stuff of an entry-level gig, of the ladder’s lower rungs. I imagine you think of your life that way, too: as a ladder which you’ve just begun to climb. Allow me to take a wild stab, with apologies up front for any errant shots. You’re a native Texan, or at most Oklahoman, Fort Worth’s radius of allure being somewhat limited. As a corporate citizen, I suspect you’re a traditionalist, a casual God-fearer, perhaps the recent graduate of one of Texas’s fine universities. Maybe the University of Dallas \(I did a readStatea no-nonsense school, a sensible campus, one of those hatcheries for the big corporate pools. The transparency of your future, the way it can be quantified, is a comfort to you. To be frank I envy you: You aren’t victimized by your daydreams ..:” Oh, but there’s more. “Plus so much else to do in life, oh the hours can’t contain it! Your mother is calling. Your oil needs changing. Your aunt’s birthday is Saturday. The folks at work want to meet up at T.G.I. Friday’s againhey, why not, they’re a great crew. Your college pals are emailingfor warded jokes and inspirational messages, you can’t keep up. Yet you’re still with mefor reasons known only to you, you’re listening” Trouble is, if I weren’t being paid to read Dear American Airlines, I wouldn’t be listening. But while I can’t stop reading, I can clap my hands on either side of my face like Macaulay Culkin and exclaim, “Oh my God! What cutting and original satire! You’ve made me see what’s wrong with my life!” It would be unfair not to acknowledge the book’s moments of beauty, as when Ford’s father reads poetry to him in his native Polish: “… he would lie next to me at bedtime and recite reams of lilting, beautifully incomprehensible poems. … For me, it was lingual white noise, those Polish consonant endings like evanescent static, whispers of shhh, the rise and fall of octosyllabic verses rocking me to sleep as pitching seas lull a sailor.” Ford is better at loving poetry than producing it, though; his immaturity and anxiety overwhelm his surges of sincerity. That this is probably Miles’ intention doesn’t make it any more appealing. Ford keeps reiterating his incredulity that his audience of one is still reading, and his disbelief is well earned. Miles might reasonably share it. Ultimately, Dear American Airlines is only as redeemable as its protagonist, which is to say, not very. Contributing writer Emily DePrang lives in Pearland. JULY 11, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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