Overload: Inside the power industry

A blacked-out city and list of Arthur Hailey's other bestsellers are on the dust jacket of "Overload".
O in Overload shows city blackout.

Overload, like several other Arthur Hailey’s bestsellers, goes inside an industry the public takes for granted and reveals the internal problems the public rarely sees—the ones that could change their lives.

Overload is about the fictitious Golden State Power and Light, which its critics say is amassing huge profits to the benefit of stockholders and the detriment of electric and gas customers.

Nim Goldman is the too-outspoken assistant to GSP&L’s chairman. Goldman knows California production facilities are barely adequate to meet the ’70s energy demands. Without more energy generation and diversified energy sources, Goldman predicts an electrical famine within a decade.

Davey Birdsong, a colorful and dynamic activist, leads the popular opposition to anything that raises utility rates. The Sequoia Club has formed an uneasy, and secret, alliance with Birdsong.

Goldman has the usual discretely described sexual conquests typical of a Hailey leading man.

But Overload is unusual in two ways: Goldman is more sexually predatory than the usual Hailey hero, and two of the novel’s sub plots are awkwardly wedged into the main tale.

Despite its flaws, Overload is a page-turner whose picture of America’s energy problems and the inefficiency of government regulation of the power industry are still valid.

Overload by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, ©1979. 515 p.
1979 bestseller #3 My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Moneychangers gives good value

If you’ve read Hotel, Airport, or Wheels, you’ll be familiar with Arthur Hailey’s technique of merging a fictional story with exposition of how large organization works.

The O in the word Moneychangers holds a man in in front of a bank vault.
The Moneychangers is about who gets access to a bank vaults.

The Moneychangers applies that formula to the operation of a big bank but, since banks have changed less since the mid-20th century than airports or the auto industry, Moneychangers has more contemporary feel.

The story opens opens with Alex Vandervoort and Roscoe Heyward competing for the presidency of First Mercantile American Bank.

The two men have very different assessments of what banks should do. For Roscoe, it’s all about shareholder profits; for Alex it’s about making reasonable profit while serving communities.

Split evenly between the candidates, the bank board puts one of its members in the presidency, leaving Alex and Roscoe as vice presidents.

Hailey does his usual thorough job explaining banking operations while telling a story. And he keeps the subplots exciting and relevant.

The leading characters are each well-developed, individually interesting. They argue about the future of banking, including about how long it will be before the American economy collapses under its weight of debt, and about ethics.

And they make the arguments matter.

Thus, The Moneychangers manages to be both easy reading and valuable reading.

The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday [1975] 436 p.
1975 bestseller #2. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Hailey’s Wheels is flat.

In Airport, novelist Arthur Hailey used a single fictional airport to put in the infrastructure needs of American’s airports in human perspective.

Black dust jacket of wheels has only tiny figures of people standing around a car.
Not a very racy cover for a book about cars.

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

Airport by Arthur Hailey: Details matter

runway is central element on dust jacket of AirportI read Airport in two big gulps two days ago.

Tonight I can scarcely remember the plot or the characters’ names, but the details are still vivid.

In Airport, Arthur Hailey weaves together several plots whose characters happen to be in a particular place, just as he did in Hotel.

In this case, the scene is the fictitious Lincoln International Airport in the overnight hours during a blizzard.

The story focuses primarily on Mel Bakersfeld, the airport’s general manager, who has a rocky marriage, a brother whose air controller job is pushing him toward suicide, and an aging airport no longer capable of meeting the demands of aviation in the post-JFK era.

Hailey works in a couple of plots, one quite implausible, to make the point that airports are dangerously inadequate from a safety perspective.

Hailey tackles the stereotypes about pilots and stewardesses with a story line about one such duo for whom Hailey can’t seem to muster much liking.

What Hailey does marvelously, however, is relay the nuts-and-bolts details of the unseen jobs — the maintenance crews, the ticket counter staff, the air traffic controllers — so readers feel like they are looking over their shoulders as they work.

Airport is worth reading just for that.


Airport by Arthur Hailey
Doubleday, 1968. 440 p. 1968 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Arthur Hailey Dishes Up a Literary Mac-and-Cheese in Hotel

Hotel is a lot like home: The settings, personalities, and action are all comfortably familiar. By the time you’re a quarter way through the novel, you know how the main plot line will end.

Fortunately Arthur Hailey packs his 1965 novel with enough subplots that, although each of them is also familiar, the collection will keep you entertained.

Multi-story hotel is image on front dust jacket of Arthur Hailey's novel "Hotel"


 

Hotel  by Arthur Hailey

Doubleday, 1965. 376 pages. 1965 bestseller #8. My grade: B-.


Peter McDermott is the young general manger of a failing, privately-owned New Orleans Hotel, He’s competent and reliable, though hounded by a youthful indiscretion.

Peter would have fired several incompetent and unreliable senior staff members had the St. Gregory’s dictatorial owner, Warren Trent, not protected them.

Unless Trent can refinance the hotel’s mortgage by Friday, they will have to take their chances under new ownership.

When an elderly guest stops breathing, Peter and Trent’s assistant, Christine Francis, cope with the medical emergency and the staff actions that triggered the respiratory crisis.

They also become aware of each other as attractive, unattached individuals.

Hailey did his research. Right down to the fat security chief who’s never around when needed, the problems and personalities of St. Gregory staff look like those I saw while working in an independently owned hotel.

Hotel will occupy your time without straining your brain.

©2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni