cover image Driving to Detroit: An Automotive Odyssey

Driving to Detroit: An Automotive Odyssey

Lesley Hazleton. Free Press, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83987-5

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. (Oct.)