Morris, Bill 1952-
MORRIS, Bill 1952-
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
Greensboro News and Record, Greensboro, NC, columnist.
Motor City (novel), Washington Square Press (New York, NY), 1992, published as Biography of a Buick, Granta (London, England), 1992.
All Souls' Day (novel), Avon (New York, NY), 1997.
Contributor to Granta 38: We're So Happy!, edited by Bill Buford, Granta (London, England), 1991.
A reporter and columnist, Bill Morris has an eye for the details that add up to a bigger story. In his novels, he has trained this eye on the past, bringing distinctive American eras to life through seminal events, cameos of the famous, and the thoughts and actions of characters that typify their times. In his first novel, Motor City, his subject is the 1950s, and the seminal event is the design of the 1954 Buick Century by the hard-charging, hard-drinking designers at General Motors. The novel "amply demonstrates that the '50s were the first American decade that could be caricatured by the brand names of its material goods," noted critic Frank Rich in the New Republic, "and Morris recaptures the clean, voluptuous pleasure of it all. At times his book suggests, not necessarily pejoratively, that America had been freshly plastered over with that home-decorating miracle known as Con-Tact paper.… After applying his figurative contact, however, Morris inevitably must strip it away to reveal what is hidden underneath."
From salesmen who pressure a war vet into buying a car he cannot properly operate to a general manager who uses spies and McCarthyite dirty tricks to keep his designs from falling into the hands of rival companies, Morris describes both the drive and the hucksterism of the era. According to mystery writer Loren Estleman in the Washington Post Book World, the book "paints a disturbingly accurate picture of an industrial leviathan rolling fat on the profits from its biggest year, oblivious to the faint rumble from the factories of the Far East and the cancerous cells feeding on its own vitals." Numerous cameos, including Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Jack Kerouac, and a Ray Kroc about to launch the McDonalds hamburger on an unsuspecting world, further illustrate the contradictions of the era. "Although the '50s collage sometimes wears thin," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Morris displays the zealous detachment of a sociologist as he exposes fissures in the decade's bland materialism."
Morris' next novel, All Souls' Day, is set on the eve of the Vietnam War, which would forever change the world of Motor City. Navy veteran Sam Malloy, shattered by his participation in some particularly nasty secret missions in Vietnam, has fled to Bangkok to quietly run a hotel. When U.S. Information Service agent Anne Sinclair shows up and starts sharing her own suspicions about where the American involvement in Vietnam is heading, Malloy finds himself gradually drawn back into the shadowy world he had left behind. Eventually, the two stumble upon a plot to assassinate South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, the event that drew the United States into the bloody tangle of Vietnamese politics for the next twelve years. "The problem is that his protagonists … are simply too nice to be interesting," complained a Publishers Weekly reviewer. But a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the book to be "an angry, moving, ingenious blend of fact and fiction about the early stages of the war in Vietnam."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, June 27, 1997, Vanessa V. Friedman, review of All Soul's Day, p. 115.
Independent on Sunday (London, England), July 26, 1992, William Leith, "Dreams of Tail-Fins and Gas-Guzzling."
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1997, review of All Souls' Day.
Library Journal, May 1, 1992, D. Bogey, review of Motor City, p. 119.
Literary Review, spring, 1995, Krzystof Lisowski and Ewa-Hryniewicz Yarbrough, review of All Soul's Day, p. 356.
New Republic, September 7, 1992, Frank Rich, review of Motor City, pp. 38-43.
New Statesman & Society, July 24, 1992, Roz Kaveney, "First Loves," p. 42.
New York Times, July 7, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, "Promise and Betrayal of the American Dream."
Observer (London, England), August 23, 1992, Valentine Cunningham, "All Revved Up and Nowhere to Go," p. 47.
Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1992, review of Motor City, p. 41; April 21, 1997, review of All Souls' Day, p. 58.
Washington Post Book World, June 14, 1992, Loren Estleman, review of Motor City, p. 38.*