Saturated with smart irony and ripe with a sense of dislocation, this third novel from the fiction editor of GQ (Thumbsucker, 1999, etc.) takes readers on a frenetic tour of Airworld, that in-flight zone of business travel where destinations bleed invisibly into connections, and connections become stations along a perpetual journey.
The story follows Ryan Bingham, a corporate Career Transitions Counselor (read: a guy for hire who fires and flees), as he closes in on the millionth accumulated mile in his GreatWest frequent-flyer plan. Bingham’s plan is to nab the final mile and leave his unsatisfying job, as well as the hotel suites, rental cars, airport breakfasts, and credit cards that come with it. There are secondary goals as well: Bingham needs to shore up a book deal with publisher Morris Dwight; advise Art Krusk now that his California taco franchise has gone under; keep his options open with MythTech, a shadowy firm that may or may not be interested in hiring him; pitch a licensing deal involving the name and logo of business guru Sanford Pinter; and keep his pulse on the forthcoming marriage of his sister Julie. But he runs into turbulence both literal and figurative: his credit card is stolen, his sister Julie disappears for days, and he’s accused of plagiarizing a business book that even he recognizes wasn’t all that original in the first place. To top it off, Bingham begins to suspect that GreatWest is trying to sabotage his million-mile achievement. The whole affair hurtles toward an anesthetized, soul-wearying epiphany aboard his final flight to Omaha, as he is toasted by the airline’s president. Kirn’s prose is splendid, his observations droll and intelligent, his evocations of Airworld pitch-perfect. If only his ambitions did more than snugly fit his grasp.
A mild treat from a stubbornly minor novelist still marking literary time somewhere between Don DeLillo and the authors of those fluffy confections readers inhale on summer beaches—or in airports.