With vigor and purpose, British-born Lesley Hazleton hits the American road as "a rite of passage," journeying cross-country from her home in Seattle to the Detroit auto show. Along the way, she visits the speed runs on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, rumbles across the Sierras on the Rubicon Trail, takes her turn on the Saturn assembly line, and discovers the place where James Dean died in his Porsche. Through her journey, "a kind of Automotive geography of America," the allure of the automobile emerges--how it is entwined with the country and, importantly, her life.
Hazleton is transfixed by the essence of the road and its machine, and her ability to place readers beside her in the passenger seat is provocative. When her father dies in faraway England, we become her confidant as she turns to contemplate her own grief and loss. "Journeys have a way of creating their own momentum," she writes. And although these departures from the strictly automotive theme may seem at first a distraction, they are very much a part of the larger journey of self-discovery that the American road has often held for many who have traveled and written about it. The insights she brings to characters, scenes, and sketches elsewhere become all the more meaningful. We see that, indeed, this romantic machine, the automobile, has a darker side. Just three hours from returning home, there is a wonderfully distracting radio program, an icy road, a sudden skid... Hazleton's journey dares to veer from the well-platted grid of first intentions into the back roads of the soul. A journey well worth taking. --Byron Ricks
From Publishers Weekly
Kerouac's Beat-bible meets the literary memoir in Hazleton's (Confessions of a Fast Woman) lively account of a six-month road trip across the American landscape. A British expat and car columnist for the Detroit Free Press seeking to map out an "automotive geography of America," Hazelton resolves to follow the most roundabout route from her home in Seattle to the annual Detroit Auto Show. Driving her Ford Explorer down unmarked paths and rocky sluices from state to state, she rubs elbows with a Catholic priest/mechanic, a hot-rod customizer named Big Daddy and an ominous armored car specialist. From the Sierra's treacherous Rubicon Trail to a family-run Texas junkyard and an eerie crash-testing site in Michigan, many of this quest's destinations are refreshingly unfamiliar. Less successful are Hazleton's attempts to wax philosophically on the erotica of speed and to patch together her book's episodic structure with childhood memories of a now-ill father. Without sounding righteous, Hazleton decries the loss of the natural landscape to lazy sightseers whose paved highways have invaded "every nook and corner of the national parks." While at times the material feels too flimsy to support the weight of autobiography, Hazelton remains a congenial guide, and her decision to remain more reportorial than confessional works to her advantage, making this a vivid portrait of the bizarre and hidden aspects of American car culture.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.