Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review # 164: The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner

Description: (from press release)
     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 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 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.”

     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 emotionally 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.
About the Author: (from press release

     Theodore Weesner, born in Flint, Michigan, is aptly described as a “Writers’ Writer” by the larger literary community. His short works have been published in the New Yorker, Esquire, Saturday Evening PostAtlantic Monthly and Best American Short Stories. His novels, including The True Detective, Winning the City and Harbor Light, have been published to great critical acclaim in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, Boston Magazine and The Los Angeles Times to name a few.
     Weesner is currently writing his memoir, two new novels, and an adaptation of his widely praised novel—retitled Winning the City Redux—also to be published by Astor + Blue Editions. He lives and works in Portsmouth, NH. 

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