Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book Review: Ben Sherwood, The Man Who Ate the 747

Author: Ben Sherwood
Publisher/Year: Bantam Books, 2002

It would be easy to categorize Ben Sherwood’s debut novel The Man Who Ate the 747 as a standard run-of-the-mill romance story with the obligatory dash of quirkiness inserted to set it apart for its genre companions. And this would be a fair assessment, if not for the composition of that quirky factor indicated by the novel’s title. The story is indeed about a man who eats a Boeing 747 airplane in a misguided attempt to prove his love to an elusive paramour.

The story begins with J.J. Smith, an average joe who works as a Keeper of the Records for The Book of Records. He is the guy who flies around the world to document amazing human feats for inclusion in the book’s editions. Smith has had a string of bad luck lately, with his last three record attempts ending in failure. As a result of his misfortune, his boss is hounding Smith to find the one feat that will reestablish his increasingly precarious position within the organization.

Going through his correspondence, Smith comes across a child’s letter relaying that there is a man eating an airplane in Nebraska. He is intrigued by the simple absurdity of the tip, and begins to research the possibility of the story. A quick search confirms that a plane did crash in the indicated town years ago, so off he goes to Superior to find this certainly crazy man.

Smith’s arrival in the town reveals more than he could have hoped. Not only is Wally Wyatt eating the 747 but he is doing it out of love. Wally’s logic is that if this act does not get the attention of Willa, the local newspaper publisher with whom he has been in love with since early youth, then nothing will. J.J. is excited about the potential record and, despite knowing that Wally does not want any attention, inculcates a media blitz. The town is besieged by reporters from all over the world, all anxious to get the story, and by companies wanting to capitalize on Wally’s story in order to sell their wares.

As all of this is going on, J.J. takes it upon himself to get Willa’s approval for Wally. She disapproves of Wally’s action, avoiding all discussion of his activities until J.J. shows up at her office. Willa and J.J. soon find themselves enmeshed in their own love story. Long hidden behind the facts he works with, J.J. finds a freedom with Willa that makes he begins to understand why Wally would undertake such an absurd and dangerous activity in the name of love.

Now, the novel’s opening sentence—“the story of the greatest love, ever”—promises much but does not fully deliver. The Man Who Ate the 747 is, despite the unique premise, a standard run-of-the-mill romance novel with few surprises. Even the cover art—a heart with wings--is standard visual fare. But the book is a pleasant enough for a lazy afternoon on the porch or at the beach.

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