The Car Thief

The Car Thief

by Theodore Weesner
3.7 11


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The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner

Hailed by The Boston Globe as "so poignant and beautifully written, so true and painful, that one can't read it without feeling the knife's cruel blade in the heart," The Car Thief was first published to enormous popularity, and sold over half a million copies. Alex Housman is a kid who at the age of sixteen has had fourteen cars, harbors many hurts, and seems to fade into his environment while raging inside. His father is an alcoholic, losing his grip on life even as he wants the best for his son. The Car Thief explores the love Alex and his father share, in a tremendously poignant story that is filled with unusual triumphs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440118077
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1973
Pages: 352

About 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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Car Thief 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
nle1 More than 1 year ago
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.
Icecream18JA More than 1 year ago
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.
JenRenJM More than 1 year ago
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.
Book_Bite_Reviews More than 1 year ago
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.
The_Paperback_Pursuer More than 1 year ago
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.
Bizzie More than 1 year ago
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.
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MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
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
Evangeline_Han More than 1 year ago
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.
JackieBCentralTexasJB More than 1 year ago
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.