In Airport, novelist Arthur Hailey used a single fictional airport to put in the infrastructure needs of American’s airports in human perspective.
In Wheels he attempts to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the entire auto industry. He can’t squeeze it all into an average-length novel.
Wheels has three main stories: The marriage of Adam Trenton, who is head of General Motor’s newest product launch, and his sexually under-served wife, Erica; the relationship of GM product designer Brett DeLosanto and Barbara Zaleski, an ad agency creative working for auto industry clients; and Rollie Knight, a black ex-con who gets a job at GM through an employment program aimed at Detroit’s home-grown underclass.
Those three stories would be plenty for a novel, but Hailey brings in two others to give a rounded picture of the industry. In the process, he lets the air out of the main stories.
In its own way, each of the three stories’ endings is as unsatisfactory as a Monday-built automobile.
Hailey’s allusions to current events probably kept 1970’s readers attention, but they they won’t gain much traction with 2018 readers: Today Hailey would need to give free car washes to every reader who finishes the novel.
Wheels by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, 1971. 374 p.
1971 bestseller #1. My grade: B-
© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni