Friday, June 22, 2012

The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner

Summary (courtesy of the publisher):  Described as “one of the best coming of age novels of the Twentieth Century,” Theodore Weesner’s modern American classic is now re-launched for a new generation of readers to discover.

It’s 1959. Sixteen year-old Alex Housman has just stolen his fourteenth car and frankly doesn’t know why. His divorced, working class father grinds out the night shift at the local Chevy Plant in Detroit, looking forward to the flask in his glove compartment, and the open bottles of booze in his Flint, Michigan home. Abandoned and alone, father and son struggle to express a deep love for each other, even as Alex fills his day juggling cheap thrills and a crushing depression. And then there’s Irene Shaeffer, the pretty girl in school whose admiration Alex needs like a drug in order to get by. Broke and fighting to survive, Alex and his father face the realities of estrangement, incarceration, and even violence as their lives unfold toward the climactic episode that a New York Times reviewer called“one of the most profoundly powerful in American fiction.”In this rich, beautifully crafted story, Weesner accomplishes a rare feat: He’s written a transcendent piece of literature in deceptively simple language, painting a powerful portrait of a father and a son, otherwise invisible among the mundane, everyday details of life in blue collar America. A true and enduring American classic.

And here's what I thought: It's always interesting to read a "coming of age" novel from a different time period than my own childhood, so I was intrigued by this story.  I think a good story, however, can transcend any time period -- that it doesn't matter when the person is going through their experiences, but what those experiences are, and how they are changed by them.   Admittedly, other than having some familiarity with the cars from the late 1950's/early 1960s, I didn't have much to relate to in this book; I'm not a young man, I've never stolen a car, I've never been incarcerated ---- but it was easy for me to become drawn into this story.  I will say that at times, it felt a bit uncomfortable -- reading this story is like being a voyeur to your neighbors across the way; you don't always want to know all the details of what is happening.

Truthfully, I didn't always like Alex.  I didn't always feel like I understood him.  Sometimes, it felt like he was just slogging mindlessly through his days, which I found frustrating.   Sometimes, it felt like he was a bit one-dimensional, and a bit boring.  I never did quite relate to him. However, I found myself continuing to turn the pages, just to see what was going to happen to him -- and I felt that if he could just get on the right path, and stay there, with some help and guidance, that he was going to be okay.  I think that's the most timeless element of this story: the hope that is there, throughout the book, even if sometimes, it's a pretty slim shard.  

The author has a simple, straightforward writing style, which I think suits the story.    Whether or not this is truly a timeless story, which will appeal to young readers now, I think really depends on the reader.   I have seen other reviews that compare Alex Housman to the character of Holden Caulfield -- frankly, I really dislike Catcher in the Rye and Holden's character.  However, there have always been readers who respond to Catcher, and who, I think, will also respond to this story.   Personally, I found it an interesting glimpse into the past, and into one person's autobiographical story.  I don't know if I'll re-read it, but it was a worthwhile read, and definitely a book I probably wouldn't have picked up without the publisher contacting me (thank you!).   I'm giving this a 3 --- it's probably more of a 3.5, though

First lines:  Again today Alex Housman drove the Buick Riviera.  The Buick, coppertone, white sidewalls, was the model of the year, a '59, although the 1960 models were already out.  Its upholstery was black, its windshield was tinted a thin color of motor oil.  The car's heater was issuing a stale and odorous warmth, but Alex remained chilled.  He had walked several blocks through snow and slush, wearing neither hat nor gloves nor boots, to where he had left the car the night before.  The steering wheel was icy in his hands, and he felt icy within, throughout his veins and bones.  Alex was sixteen; the Buick was his fourteenth car.
Thanks very much to Astor + Blue Editions for contacting me about this book!   For more information about this book, and the publisher, please click on this LINK.   There is also a current special (until June 24) for the Kindle version of this book, on  


Jennifer M. said...

I'm actually very intrigued by this book. It sounds like an interesting read. Great review. :)


Jen said...

Thanks, Jennifer! As I said, I'm not sure if I'd re-read the book, but it was an interesting story.

Jim Warf Of Elizabeth Street Tattoo said...

Thanks for sharinng

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