Tuesday, May 22, 2012


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.

So begins THE CAR THIEF, the coming-of-age journey of Alex Housman, a young man abandoned by his mother and living with a father as addicted to his bottle as Alex is to stealing cars. All Alex wants—and needs—is someone to take notice of him, to care for him. But no one does, so he steals cars until the cops catch up with him and send him to a detention center for juvenile delinquents. He awaits his fate there for several months, eventually released under the care of his father and on probation until he turns eighteen.

Alex returns to school, motivated to be a good student. He works hard at geometry, picks up a paper route, excels at basketball, but no one trusts him enough to let him to demonstrate his remorse and good intentions. His schoolmates ignore him or worse, beat him up, and he ends up marginalized again. He hangs his hopes on Irene, a school girl who at first shows interest in Alex, and on his younger brother, living miles out with their mother, but neither can save him from his aloneness. When his father returns to drinking with catastrophic consequences, Alex realizes only he can choose his life--let his past dictate his future, or find his own way.

In this novel, it really is all about the writing. Weesner describes setting with a pitch-perfect sense of the right details. Weesner catapults the reader in all the senses to the point where I was Alex Hausman—feeling icy flakes hit his cheeks, seeing the dark streets as he traveled through neighborhoods in his stolen car, inhaling coal dust as he cleaned out the bin as part of his detention. I felt the weight of his life, the futility of his future, his depression. Based on his own childhood experiences, Weesner weaves a dark story, one that feels hopeless much of the time. But then he gives us respite, a glimpse of light in Alex’s life—when he finds his power on the basketball court, when he follows Irene Shaeffer on and off the city buses, when he escapes into a book:

He rose finally at the end of a chapter, although he read a little into the next chapter before he made himself stop. His legs were buoyant with saws and needles as he buttoned up, and he had to hold a hand against the wall not to sway from balance. Then he checked the thickness of pages he had read between his fingers, and experienced something he had never experienced before. Some of it was pride—he was reading a book—and some of it was a preciousness the book had assumed. Feeling relaxed, unthreatened, he wanted to keep the book in his hands, for what it offered. He did not want to turn the pages, for then they would be gone and spent; nor did he want to do anything but turn the pages.

By the novel's end, Alex had engrained himself on me as a character I will not forget, a mash-up of Holden Caulfield and Oliver Twist. So much happens to Alex—he is a passive protagonist—that when he does exert himself to find a better way, you root for him. Does Alex find his way? Does he find a place in the world? I will not spoil the ending but urge you to read THE CAR THIEF for yourself. THE CAR THIEF is not a new story. Published in 1972 by Random House, the story reads as fresh and relevant now as forty years ago. New Digital First Publisher ASTOR + BLUE EDITIONS promises to “revive Weesner’s readership and keep it alive indefinitely” in Digital E-Book format before the release of the Custom Print Version, due out in June.

THE CAR THIEF deserves a new audience for many reasons—the gorgeous prose, the haunting character of Alex, the snapshot of time and setting, gritty Detroit on the cusp of the tumultuous sixties, but mostly because it is, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, a “remarkable, gripping novel.” You can start your journey with  Alex here ==> The Car Thief. Enjoy, and let me know what you think. Peace...

About the Author: 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 Post, Atlantic 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. He is currently working on 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment