Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A vast American affair with fins....


When I was about twelve, I made the jump from juvenile to adult fiction, with my mother's able assistance. One of her first recommendations was Mary Stewart, who wrote what mom termed "mysteries." The usual label on the cover of a Stewart novel was "romantic suspense," a more apt description for her work. Unlike many of the hack authors of that era, Stewart's prose is beautiful and her characterizations and plots are entertaining. Often, there is a literary bent to her work, which served me well as I studied English literature during undergraduate school. As my professor spoke about Samuel Taylor Colridge's "Christabel," I remembered the quotes at the beginning of each chapter that Stewart used in The Gabriel Hounds.

In one of her novels, her (always sensibly British) heroine hires a car and driver, and the narrator describes the automobile as "a vast American affair with fins" causing me to picture my mother's 52 Cadillac. But it could have been a 57 Chevy, or any number of late fifties vehicles produced in the USA, where large, luxurious cars have long been a symbol of success.

That era, along with American economic prosperity, seems to be coming to a close. Online media is documenting this demise, and I'll suggest two ways to experience it. First, there is a wonderful slide show of GM cars, with photos and captions submitted by readers of the New York Times about the role(s) that these cars played in the lives of their owners. This is really a trip down memory lane, so do take a look. I was always a big fan of Oldsmobile, and there are several, including two 72 Cutlass models, which was my all time favorite Olds.

While I loved the NYTimes piece, I must also share the Wall Street Journal essay by P. J. O'Rourke about the end of the American love affair with cars, a superbly written bit of prose which made me (and hubby) smile and sigh, all at the same time. Again, having lived half a century makes this all the more poignant.

Change is inevitable, but America seems to be going through menopause. What can't be known as yet is will it have a long, graceful old age, or will it deteriorate rapidly and die?

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