MOTOR CITY by Bill Morris


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 Corporate intrigue at Buick in the early 1950's, by a columnist for the Greensboro (N.C.) News and Record. There's a lot of plot here, but basically this is a sturdy first novel about a brash new manager for Buick, Ted Mackey, installed in 1954 to ``beat out Plymouth'' for the number three sales spot. No Toyotas in evidence; America is still basking in its triumph over Japan, and Ford and Chevy are one and two. Mackey has a beautiful mistress and, like everyone else, lives life to the hilt: the cars can't be big enough, and you can smoke all the cigarettes you want, and no one worries about cholesterol. Mackey lines up Marilyn Monroe, newly married to Joe DiMaggio, for an ad campaign, and then manhandles 500,000 Buicks through the assembly lines. He does indeed beat Plymouth, but, as a microcosm of the McCarthy-inspired paranoia abroad in the land, he worries unreasonably that the plans for an exciting new model (rather like a Corvette) will be stolen by rivals, and the project sours. Moreover, his mistress is unhappy, and his wife, another harbinger of the future, defies him to the point of liberation. Mackey is demoted, and a safe functionary, a carbon copy of bland President Eisenhower, replaces him. Morris's achievement is to show the excess and the repression of the 1950's simultaneously, and to meditate on why such reckless prosperity couldn't last. Marilyn Monroe coos down the page and shows herself to be rather a good businesswoman. And the American love affair with the car, nowadays a strained marriage, is admirably done. Reminiscent of the early novels of Herman Wouk: old-fashioned, sexy, and with a plot just short of overwrought.

Pub Date: June 16th, 1992
ISBN: 0-679-40834-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992


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