The Car Thiefby Theodore Weesner
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
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. He cruises and steals, running fromand then forcing run-ins withthe police, compelled by reasons he frustratingly can’t put into words. 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.”
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The Car Thief
By Theodore Weesner
Astor + Blue Editions LLCCopyright © 2012 Theodore Weesner
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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.
The storm, the falling snow, had come early to Michigan's Thumb, for it was not yet November. The previous day had been predictably autumn, drizzling steadily, leaves still hanging apple-colored overhead among the city's black wires. But by evening a chilling breeze had begun moving through the city, blowing over the wide by-passes and elevated freeways. Now in the morning the snow-covering was overall. It was four or five inches deep, as wet as a blanket soaked in water, as gray and full in the sky as smoke from the city's concentrations of automobile factories.
A cigarette Alex had not wanted so early in the morning was wedged in the teeth of the ashtray drawer. He could not remember having lighted it, and he thought about snuffing it out but made no move to do so. The dry smoke reached over the dashboard like a girl's hair in water. Picking up the cigarette, discovering either weakness or nervousness in his fingers, he drew his lungs full and replaced it in the teeth of the drawer. The smoke burned his eyes, as if from within, and he squinted as they watered.
He drove with his back not quite touching the seat. His shoulders and arms, down to his hands on the steering wheel, kept shivering lightly. The windshield wipers slapped back and forth quietly before him, slapping the melting snow to streams trailing to the sides. The only color within the ashen storm was an occasional diamond sparkling of oncoming headlight beams. He kept shivering. For a second he looked at himself, at his maze of trouble. Immediately he felt bound to the driver's position, bound to the steering wheel and accelerator and to the view ahead through the windshield. The act of driving became tedious.
At Chevrolet Avenue, near home, near where in their apartment his father was sleeping at that moment, he turned toward downtown, entering heavy traffic. The line of cars, taillights flaring red and receding in domino lines, moved slowly. He turned on the radio, and turned the dial. No music. News. News of the storm, of traffic, of snow-removal equipment. With an outstretched arm he kept the dial moving as he drove along. Still he could not find any music. If the clock was right, it was just past eight. Unable to find music, he desired it all the more, as if on its sensations he might float away from the tediousness of driving.
He drove on. The cars before him were moving as carefully as ships in fog. Less carefully, he followed. He glanced at his rear-view mirror and saw the headlights of a car close behind. Raising a little higher in the seat, he glanced at his face in the dark mirror. He settled and returned his fingers to the radio dial. He searched again for music. He had been surprised at the anger and fear he had seen on his face, but he knew of nothing to do about it. He knew of nothing to do but to keep driving.
At last, at a point where the slow trainline of cars overlapped a sidestreet, he suddenly spun the steering wheel and nosed the Buick from the line. He pressed the accelerator and the rear of the heavy car came sliding sideways, trying to catch pavement, and catching, burned a brief squeal, squirting momentary rainbows of slush.
He began driving slowly. He turned corners here and there. He had no plan now of going anywhere, nor was he much aware that he had no plan. He turned into a driveway once to turn around, but backing out again, in a confusion of changing his mind, he continued the same way. The tediousness of driving kept building in him. It was as if the car held only a cup of gasoline but would not stop rolling on and on.
He turned the radio dial again. He found music now but it was too thin to allow him to float anywhere. Letting the dial go, he tried to escape into a fantasy. He imagined someone being sentenced to death on a challenge of no one in the crowd being willing to drive through the city at a hundred miles an hour and he was raising his hand, stepping forward. But the fantasy did not work. The ordeal of driving did not go away. As if allowing him a moment's diversion, the tediousness slipped back into him, stirring through his chest and stomach.
He saw, in time, that he was on Court Street, on an outer edge of the city. Buses were separating and gathering on the other side of the street, exhausting sprays of diesel pepper into the snow. The buses were filled with downtown office workers and high school students, perhaps a few stray and way-late factory workers. Alex imagined the bus aisles with melting snow underfoot, with books on girls' warm knees. He saw himself as if in a distant past, hanging by a loose arm, reading concave advertisements as the bus swayed along.
Still the tediousness of driving did not go away. The pressure kept growing until he felt it in his jaws, and he began losing his strength of grip on the steering wheel. His stomach was drawing tighter. It was a pressure, an anguish, which had overtaken him before, but he did not think of that, nor very clearly of anything. He closed his eyes against the feeling and opened them. His jaws felt chilled. He removed his foot from the accelerator, and as the sensation was seizing him, he slammed his palms against the steering wheel, jarring it, as if a violent striking there might cancel an explosion elsewhere.
No explosion came. In only a moment, coasting almost to a stop, the feeling turned from its peak and began to ease. He guided the car toward the curb, where it rolled to a stop in the deeper snow. Pushing a chrome tab, he hummed the window down. He realized how hot and dry the car had become. He turned his head to the open space for better air. The snow falling by and the sharp moist air were refreshing. When he had rested a moment and his stomach and breathing were closer to normal, he pressed the accelerator lightly, not to spin the wheels, and drove on again. He gave little thought to what had happened. Shivering, feeling chilled once more, he pushed the tab and the window rose beside him.
At a red light, turning a corner onto Court Street in front of him, was a black police cruiser. Two uniformed policemen were in the front seat, and Alex's eyes and the eyes of the driver glanced at each other. Alex looked away, as if casually. His heart seemed to pause. He felt the body of the cruiser pass before him and beside him, as long as a submarine. His eyes and the eyes of the driver had spoken to each other. He wondered how the policeman could not have helped seeing that he was guilty. When the light changed, he pulled away carefully. He did not look back.
After a moment he had still not looked back. Always before when he saw a police car he used both mirrors, moved little more than his eyes, in case the cruiser's taillights flared and he had to go. Now he imagined the cruiser U-turning to come after him, quickly this moment approaching the side of the Buick. But checking his mirror, he saw an empty snow-blown street. He felt disappointed. For a moment, only a moment, he felt a fear of never being caught.
He pressed the accelerator, and the heavy Buick moved out faster. He had switched license plates the first night he took the Buick, but he had been driving it ten or twelve days now, too long, he knew, to keep a car so easily identified. He knew he should trade the Buick for a Chevrolet, if only to save on gas money. He knew it every day, but he did not trade it. His father left him a dollar bill on their kitchen table each morning for his lunch and bus fare, and he suffered through giving up the dollar—for gas, never oil—as he suffered through other things he had given up, other things he was leaving undone.
A moment later, for the first time, he had a notion of something pleasant lying at the end of the Buick's inevitable road. Perhaps it was a notion that the Buick was going to an inevitable end. At other times on the thought of where he was going, the seizure began in his stomach and he would steel himself as if to have his toes or fingers axed off. Now he felt a relaxation, a promise of rest, of sleep.
He had the radio dial going again, and hearing a voice say, "Here comes a big hit from last year," he centered the dial on the song's tone, and raised the volume, and removed his hand. The music came over the speaker and he hummed along.
I fall to pieces
Each time I see you again
I fall to pieces ...
The music filled the dark interior of the car. Within a fantasy, within a complicated response to the song—it was one, like many others, that his father had played deep into past alcoholic nights—Alex imagined someone, some young girl, being sentenced to death on a challenge of no one in the crowd knowing the exact words to the song, and he was raising his hand, reaching out his hand and stepping forward.
He was floating now, lightly delivering the words.
The Buick moved along, sheet-spraying from both sides like a motorboat. As if by habit, Alex was driving in the direction of Shiawassee, a small town where he knew a girl named Eugenia Rodgers. He was doing forty through the slushy snow, sliding to the side occasionally when the rear wheels seemed to miss catching. The cars across the median, moving toward the city, were doing no more than twenty or twenty-five, their headlights approaching gradually in the storm, one after another. Other days, driving on the divided highway at off hours, he had cruised at eighty or ninety, sometimes flooring the accelerator for a mile or two, raising the speedometer to a buoyant hundred and four, five, six miles an hour. He was fairly calm in those moments, more frightened in the aftermath than in the moment itself. He did not like driving fast. He had no idea why he did it, because he liked to do things different from others. He slowed down now, to thirty-five, to a careful thirty.
His brother, Howard, also lived in this direction. Howard, who was three years younger, lived with their mother and her second husband some twenty-five miles from the city where they operated a lakeside tavern. Alex was thinking of Howard now, trying to call up images of him, trying to make the images stand still as he drove. What would Howard think if he saw him in the Buick? The thought of seeing Howard, of actually seeing him, made Alex shudder.
He leaned closer over the steering wheel, to concentrate on the on-again, off-again view presented by the wipers. In the weeks that he had been driving to Shiawassee he had thought of Howard a few times, but he had never considered going there, to Lake Nepinsing. Nor did he plan on going there now. He had not seen Howard since an August day, three years before, when their mother, a stranger—it was her first visit in five or six years—came and took Howard away in her car, carrying his possessions and clothes in cardboard boxes. It was a miserable time to recall, and Alex looked away from thinking about it.
He thought of Eugenia Rodgers. She was his age, sixteen, although he had told her he was nineteen. Nineteen seemed a proud age to his mind; sixteen possessed no such quality. He had met Eugenia, or picked her up, several weeks before, and now, even if it was no more than nine or nine-thirty and she would be in school, her town and her country school were a place to drive to, rather than nowhere.
He had been driving to the country schools since September. He had discovered the first one by accident, merely driving one day when he should have been in his own school; thereafter he searched them out intentionally. In easy fantasies, imagining he was the owner of the car, he drove around the corners and fronts of the strange schools during their lunch hours, to let himself be seen. Riding a coppertone stallion. He returned to one school or another for several days running, picking out a girl and looking for her, and partially following her, almost never speaking or approaching. Then, frightened by the 4-H football-type boys in threes and fours who always began to stare at him and say things to each other, he went on to another school, to Flushing and Linden and Grand Blanc and Atlas and Montrose. They were schools only an eighth or tenth the size of his city high school—two or three hundred students to three thousand—but there had been a wonder and excitement those fall days of discovering that the students were, incredibly, always fifteen and sixteen and seventeen, with recognizable bodies and backs and postures, except, when they turned, for their faces, which were unknown and unknowing. He drove among them and walked among them. He intentionally parked his Chevrolet Bel Air or his Buick Riviera under their eyes, left the car and re-entered the car under their eyes. He was able to see himself in these moments as he imagined he was seen by them, as a figure from a movie, a stranger, some newcomer come to town, some new cock of the walk with a new car, with a plume of city hair.
Twenty miles from the city he took the ramp off the highway and continued right on the road to Shiawassee. He passed the side road down which Eugenia Rodgers lived, down which she had walked several times to meet him, for she was not allowed to have boys pick her up at her house. After another mile or so he came into Shiawassee. It was a town of five or six blocks of stores, with a movie theater, with new parking meters, the street-lights lighted today under the dark sky. He drove past the high school. It was on Main Street, set back from the street, with a couple of dairy bars directly opposite. The two floors of windows in the brick school building were lighted, and looked warm inside, and as he drove by, slowly, he saw a woman teacher's back close to a window on the second floor. He turned a corner, to park where he always parked to wait for Eugenia. He did not know what he was going to do and did not think much about it; it was not a new problem. He buttoned his coat as he walked along through the slush, aiming for one of the eating places.
If he saw Eugenia he might apologize, after a fashion. He had picked her up two days before, during her lunch hour, and when they drove into the country, to a lake, and the lunch hour was ending, he had refused to take her back. It had been autumn then, two days ago. They had gone to a lakeside park which was deserted in October. She wanted to go back, because if she missed again, the teacher was going to call her mother again, and her mother, who had remarried not long ago, was going to confine her. But he had refused to take her back, even when she begged, even when she let him feel her breasts, even when she became angry and started walking. He followed her with the car, and stopped before her on the shoulder of the road, watching her through the rearview mirror as she bent forward to begin running, pressing the accelerator as she came close. He convinced her twice more that he was stopping to pick her up, and left her both times. The next time he stopped, she walked past the car and did not look at him, and he let her walk perhaps a quarter of a mile before he went after her again. When she finally got into the car, it was nearly two o'clock. She sat still and said nothing, and he looked at her now and then as he drove. In town, when he stopped at a corner, she left the car without looking at him and he had not seen her since. He felt like a fool, remembering, but he knew that if he told her some story, that he had killed someone, had hit them with the car, or that he had killed his father, she would listen and would not believe him, but would, in her way, forgive him.
Excerpted from The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner. Copyright © 2012 Theodore Weesner. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions LLC.
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Meet the Author
The late, great, Theodore (Ted) Weesner died in 2015. Known as the ‘Writer’s writer’ by the larger literary community, his novels and short works were published to great critical acclaim.
Born in Flint, Michigan, to an alcoholic father and teenage mother who abandoned him aged one, he spent a large part of his childhood in an unofficial foster home of an immobile woman of over five hundred pounds. This, however, gave him and his elder brother, Jack, a degree of freedom to explore and have a wide variety of childhood adventures. He nevertheless became introspective as a teenager, with a rebellious streak, which led to him not graduating from high school and also becoming involved in petty crime. Eventually returning to the care of his father, he finally took off on his own when he lied about his age and joined the Army aged seventeen.
It was the Army that finally had the influence previously lacking in Weesner’s life, and whist serving he earned a high school equivalency diploma, which on leaving allowed him to gain a place at Michigan State University and then an M.F.A. degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
His experiences in the Army also provided material for two of his later books, and others gained from his many years of teaching at the University of New Hampshire, and later Emerson College. Put together with his earlier life experiences, ample material was available to provide a background for his plots, once he had honed his writing skills, and his works never lost their air of reality and his inherent understanding of human behaviour.
His first novel, ‘The Car Thief’ was published in 1972 after excerpts had appeared in ‘The New Yorker’, ‘Esquire’ and ‘The Atlantic Monthly’. It was a coming-of-age tale that critics found ‘original, perspicacious and tender’. Joseph McElroy, in ‘The New York Times Book Review’, referred to it as ‘a story so modestly precise and so movingly inevitable that before I knew what was happening to me I felt in the grip of some kind of thriller’. In his obituary of Weesner, published in the ‘New York Times’ in June 2015, Bruce Weber stated that ‘like many a critically appreciated book …. it faded rather quickly from view. But it became famous in literary circles as a forgotten gem’. It has since had a second life, being re-published twice more and continues to grip readers of a new generation as well as remaining popular with those who were its contemporaries.
Again, Weesner’s later work did not always enjoy the immediate commercial success that might be expected of critically acclaimed work – to the sorrow of his fellow writers, and recognised by Weesner himself, who was acutely aware of the ‘neglected writer’ label – despite such plaudits as that of the novelist Stewart O’Nan, when speaking of ‘The True Detective’, and calling it ‘one of the great, great American novels’. This could be because his particular genre became crowded at the time of his writing, often by lesser authors who nonetheless achieved the publicity needed to produce success.
Indeed, as is the case with many great writers, an enhanced and wider appreciation of Theodore Weesner’s catalogue will undoubtedly grow following his departure from the scene.
His short works have previously been published in the ‘New Yorker’, ‘Esquire’, ‘Saturday Evening Post’, ‘Atlantic Monthly’ and ‘Best American Short Stories’. Likewise, his novels appeared in the ‘New York Times’, ‘The Washington Post’, ‘Harper’s’, ‘The Boston Globe’, ‘USA Today’, ‘The Chicago Tribune’, and ‘The Los Angeles Times’.
During his lifetime Weesner received the ‘New Hampshire Literary Award’ for Lifetime Achievement, whilst ‘The Car Thief’ won for him the ‘Great Lakes Writers Prize’, and ‘The True Detective’ was cited in 1987 by the American Library Association as a notable book of that year. He was also the recipient of ‘Guggenheim’ and ‘National Endowment for the Humanities’ awards.
A perfectionist, Theodore Weesner did meticulous research, and was never afraid of going back over and re-writing his work before publication, believing in the maxim ‘the great novel isn't written, it's rewritten’.
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This story is a “come to Jesus” moment for anyone who reads it. It tells us of Alex, the son and of Curly, the father. They are together on different planes - the same house, sleeping, eating, living together barely speaking, barely existing most of the time. Mom left with the young brother, Howard, several years ago and Curly’s world changed dramatically. His drinking before more, his life much less and his ability to care for a son alone isn’t even worth discussing. Alex has, at 16, done something most adults haven’t done, much less kids his age: he is driving a Buick and it is the 14th car he has stolen. However, the Buick is different in that this time he is caught. Dad is working nights building cars and has no idea what Alex is up to. Curly is too depressed to notice. He knows he should do SOMETHING but doesn’t know what. Alex goes to the 1960’s version of Juvie and there his world enlarges by leaps and bounds. It is a hard place, cleaning coal chutes, toilets with no seats and a blanket. White and black teens together doing “chores” meant to teach them behavior and respect. As soon as he can, Alex leaves and goes home to – nothing. He wants to enlist but by now is only 17 and can’t. He goes to see his brother Howard and his errant mother but can’t stay. Home isn’t for him, at least home with a semblance of family. He is verbally cruel to Howard who only wants an older brother, someone to hang with and possibly look up to. Nothing to look up to in Alex. Alex goes back to school, gets a job as a caddy and looks forward to freedom. And he gets it – just not the way he planned. Billed as “one of the best coming of age novels of the twentieth century”, The Car Thief was actually written in 1967. It is about juvenile delinquents, alcoholic fathers, cars, high school, crushes on girls and LIFE as most of us don’t have to live it. (Thank God!) A hard story to read but possibly an essential one.
Sixteen year-old Alex Housman steals cars and skips school, almost hoping to get caught. His younger brother was taken away to live with his re-married mother who never bothers to see her oldest son, Alex. His alcoholic, divorced father works in a Michigan auto factory. Alex fantasizes about a girl in his high school, but ends up being stalker-like, despite her initial friendly attitude. Once he’s caught for stealing cars, Alex ends up in juvenile detention where he meets an assortment of lost, misfit boys like himself. Weesner sets his story in 1959, and he mentions in the introduction that it is somewhat autobiographical. This is a re-release, originally published in 1972. The story reminds me of Catcher in the Rye, the novel we all had to read in high school. These two stories fall into the “read them because you have to” category for me. As a teen, I sometimes felt the undirected energy, purposeless confusion, lack of care that Weesner describes so poignantly. As a boy, Alex seems to also feel the need to punch or be punched…needing some recklessness and danger to feel alive. However, his perpetual boredom with his life also comes through. When an adviser suggests various jobs, Alex takes on a paper route and then later caddies at a country club. Having work seems to improve his outlook. The novel’s ending is not unexpected, but is uneventfully, quietly sad. As a teen, this story would have made me uncomfortable. Some of the feelings are too close to home then. As an adult, I feel so sorry for Alex’s father – who shyly, genuinely seems to love his son. With such a broken home and so many problems, the story draws you into their world, but you don’t want to be there. If this was a neighbor, I would want to help, but I would feel the situation to be nearly hopeless. This is a novel that should be read for its insights and its great writing. Those of us who read for inspiration, excitement, and optimistic thoughts may only feel disturbed and anxious.
Review: The Car Thief, Theodore Weesner Alex Housman is a sixteen year old young man, cruising around the city in his 14th stolen car; a Buick Rivera. He really doesn’t know why he steals cars, but is at the point where he is hoping to get caught. The fact that he wants to get caught, leads me to believe he is just looking for someone – ANY one – to notice him. His father works 2nd shift at a local Chevrolet plant, and is a hard core alcoholic. Other than work, the only thing he has time and attention for is the bottle. Alex and his father have a decent relationship, but his father is deeply depressed and suicidal. The Car Thief is written well and a very compelling story. I can see why it’s been said to be “One of the great coming of age novels…” It was definitely a struggle for me to read though. As a mother of two boys, one girl (who started out in life as my niece but became my daughter through adoption), and ‘Mom’ to several of my children’s friends – I wanted so much to be able to reach in and take Alex by the hand. I am appalled by women who turn their backs and walk away from their children…it makes absolutely NO sense to me. Alex’s father tried his best, but too often was lost in his own pain and couldn’t see much beyond his depression. Throughout the story, I kept seeing Alex crying out for attention. He was so lost and virtually alone. He felt like he was not wanted, didn’t fit in, and has self-esteem issues because of his appearance. I believe that all of these feelings stem from being abandoned by his mother. I am very happy that Alex found the motivation to turn things around. All it took was for one person to care, take an interest in his well being, and let him know that he is valued.
The Car Thief was a really good coming of age story. It was an interesting story about a boy who went down the wrong path and has to find his way back. I liked that the writing style was very simplistic and had an easy flow. This would be a very good novel to read leisurely if its not your normal genre that you usually read, and i also think that if they put the authors new introduction that was in the beginning at the end or out completely that way the story wasn't spoiled for you. Overall, it was pretty good.
Review: When I fist picked up The Car Thief, I did not suspect the history behind it. I did not realize that is was originally published in 1967, or that it was more autobiographical than it was fictional. Upon reading the Introduction by Theodore Weesner (2012), as well as the Author's Bio, my interest spiked. The author had been though a lot in his life and I hoped to see that conveyed throughout all 391 pages of his novel; it was. The book takes place in Michigan in 1959, but the characters, events, and emotions are transcendent, easy to relate to for any generation of readers. I immediately empathized with Alex and Curly, their relationship painful, raw, and heartbreaking; Alex's need for car-thieving thrills and Curly's alcoholic tendencies pulling the pair further apart. Honestly, I did not expect to be so affected by their plights, but the sad reality of Alex's situation struck a chord with me. Before and after his incarceration, I could feel how the community looked down on him and thought he was good-for-nothing. That level of judgment would pressure anyone, especially someone so young and damaged. Every time Alex was down-in-the-dumps, I had to refrain from becoming his personal cheerleader; he definitely needed a friend – or better yet – a family that was willing to stand behind him. The writing style was succinct, but each page firmly and emotionally got the author's points across. I cannot say that I was surprised by the ending, however, it is one that I will not likely forget. I enjoyed Weesner's The Car Thief more than Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and I believe that it would be a welcome change to some high literature curriculums. Recommended to all readers, especially teens. Rating: On the Run (4.5/5) *** I received this book from the author (Blue Dot Literary / Astor + Blue Editions) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
I read this book when I was a teen an I felt every disappointment and pain of growing up that T.W wrote about ..I reread it several times just remind me that my children are growing up too. My copy was lost in a move and I am awaiting the arrival of another.
THE CAR THIEF was about a teenager named Alex who was caught stealing cars and sent to a detention home. Once released, he sent back home to live with his alcoholic father. Life for Alex was not much better at home, so Alex decided to reach out to his mother and younger brother. The decision turned out to be a bad one. Alex realized he was alone. Thrown into one disappointment after another, Alex hit rock bottom. As a parent you just want to hug this poor boy. It was a coming of age story that should be read by people especially if they think they they are going through a rough time. This book was received for an honest review. Reviwed by: Rae Rating 4.5 Heat rating: mild
This is a coming-of-age novel like none other. We read coming-of-age novels dealing with mischief and the ups-and-downs of adolescence. The Car Thief has nothing of that sort. With a tone filled with hopelessness and despair, we read about a teenage boy who becomes a juvenile delinquent after stealing 14 cars for "joyrides". He comes from a broken family with an absentee mother and a father who comes back late a night or sometimes past midnight. If anything, The Car Thief sends us a resonating reminder that we live in a broken world. The story is so well-written, I find myself feeling plenty of sympathy for Alex. He seems so lost and it is obvious that he doesn't feel at peace with himself. He is searching and life is mundanely meaningless. In fact, the entire tone of the novel is mainly depressing. The Car Thief portrays life as it is, without whitewashing any details. After all, it is a fact many adolescents nowadays do not come from complete homes (especially with the staggering number of divorces). Life gets complicated and the response towards problems is the thing that matters. The Car Thief's story is sad, honestly brutal, but I liked it. This story is different, one that isn't easily forgotten. Reading it, it is easy to find the story disturbing, to get caught up in the dreary outlook. Looking through the lenses of Alex, the world seems grey. However, in the midst of the emptiness, we read about the characters who are kind, who care. These characters are the glimpses of hope and light that appear periodically despite the darkness. The style of language used in telling the story makes the story even more impactful. The Car Thief is a book that will blow your mind and causes you to examine more deeply the meaning of life. For me, it is a book that caused me to think about the teenagers in delinquent homes and how the system can cause them to reexamine their life or spiral even further downward. A refreshingly different perspective is given - triumphs and defeats, heartaches and joys, this is life.
BOOK SYNOPSIS 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, kept afloat by the flask in his glove compartment and the open bottles 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. He cruises and steals, running from, and to, the police, compelled by reasons he frustratingly can’t put into words. 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 hurtle toward the climactic episode that a New York Times reviewer called “one of the most profoundly powerful in American fiction.” MY THOUGHTS I am going to start out by saying that this is not a story for those of us who prefer our reading material to be fantasy rather than reality based. It was hard for me to relate to the character of Alex, having myself grown up in a loving household with caring parents, the plight of this young man was one I just had no personal reference for. Alex Houseman is not a young man who is endearing, he is not a young man who you want your daughter to date or even know for that matter but Alex is a young man representative of his circumstances. A Mother who abandoned her family when her sons Alex and Howard were very young, later on the same woman takes Howard with her but leaves Alex behind. A Father who is so caught up in his problems that he does not begin to acknowledge or address the problems his son is facing instead he drinks and basically leaves Alex on his own to fend for himself most of the time. It is no wonder that Alex gets into joyriding in stolen cars as a way to escape his stifling existence. Alex Houseman's character is not unique, there are many children who have come from broken homes who turn to a lifetime of crime as the easiest way to get by. However his character is unique in the fact that Alex breaks the cycle, he finally finds the inner courage to stand by what he knows is right for him and in doing so also finds his path in life. This book is very intense reading as the story progresses we are drawn further and further into Alex's thoughts, his feelings and actions. There is no way to fully describe this tale without actually re-telling it, this is an introspective look at the life of a troubled young man, a young man whose life journey is both fraught with heartache and despair but in the end proves that one can triumph over one's past mistakes. Upon further investigation into this tale it came to my attention that this is somewhat of an autobiography of the author's own life growing up. It proved to me that a person can be more than they ever thought if only they worked at it hard enough, taking the opportunities that came their way to make a life they can be proud of and a life that they enjoyed living. Once again I reiterate this is not an easy story to read as it is harshly realistic in it's honest portrayal of a very dysfunctional family that is made up of Alex and his alcoholic father, his younger brother who lives with their easily led astray mother and all the baggage that each one of them bring to the mix.