Monday, July 9, 2012
The Car Thief
The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner
ARC provided by Blue Dot Literary
Description from Goodreads:
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.”
In this rich, beautifully crafted story, Weesner accomplishes a rare feat: He’s written a transcendent piece of literature in deceptively plain language, painting a gripping 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.
The premise of the novel sounded interesting to me and I looked forward to reading it. When I started the book, I was in for a shock to my system. This novel is unlike most other "young adult" books I have read in recent years. It has a much different feel to it. I have to say that it has a much older and more literary style than most contemporary fiction. Believe me when I say that this is not a bad thing. Once I adjusted to the writing style, this was a wonderful read. It seems obvious that it was written about an earlier time and was written during an earlier time - it kind of reminded me of reading The Outsiders for the first time. Does anyone read The Outsiders anymore? Although Alex Housman, the protagonist of The Car Thief, is not a member of a gang, his life is similar to the boys in The Outsiders - absent or ill-equipped parents, dreary homes, poor school attendance and performance, very little to look forward to in life, depressing circumstances, etc.
I found the book to be refreshing in the way the author doesn't try to make Alex into a hero, or a hunky heart throb - he is just a kid who has a difficult life and he tries to deal with things. The story feels authentic, real, not some kind of modern fairy tale. Alex has a tough life - no doubt about that, but Weesner doesn't attempt to make excuses for the things Alex chooses to do - stealing cars, peeping in windows, treating his brother badly, skipping school, stealing money - he just describes the way Alex thinks and what he does. Often Alex doesn't seem to really know why he does things, but he has no other coping mechanism, so he copes the only way he knows, he leaves the school building, sneaks off to the movies, steals cars, follows girls around. Over time, Alex attempts to get his life in order, but he runs into many obstacles and has to learn to cope on his own because his father isn't equipped with any better coping skills and doesn't really know how to be a parent.
This isn't a feel-good book, it is often depressing and just plain sad. However, the simple, eloquent way that Weesner describes Alex's eventual growth and maturing is wonderful. I felt that this was in many ways, much more believable and interesting than many current books about teens today. For the careful, patient reader, this book can be quite a literary treat. It is not fluff and not trite. The sense of hope and promise of a better life at the end felt authentic and satisfying for the reader without being unrealistic or silly. I am quite happy to have had the opportunity to read this fine novel.