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The Authentic Tale Of A Car Thief

By Maggie Hellwig in Arts & Entertainment on May 25, 2012 3:40PM

In the beginning of May, we mentioned a little novel called The Car Thief by lit veteran Theodore Weesner. We're pleased to say that the book is a classic—a black sheep, but a classic nonetheless. There has been a ton of praise for The Car Thief in the past, as it has be re-released over the years. Its newest edition has sprung from the digital-first publishing company Astor+Blue.

The first comparison that comes to mind when approaching this novel is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. In an earlier release The Kansas City Star mentioned that the protagonist, Alex Housman, is similar to a "blue-collar Holden Caufield." While Alex indeed holds the angst of Holden, and stands helplessly in the face of the future with loads of baggage, there are many differences between Salinger's melancholy champion and Weesner's leading man. In these discrepancies, we find the significance and originality of The Car Thief.

Alex Housman, at the confused age of 16, has an addiction for stealing cars on the streets of Detroit. When the novel begins, he is well in over his adolescent head. Eventually the police catch up with him, and he is sent to a juvenile detention home for a period of several months. Instead of confronting the reader with the raging inner dialogue of cursing and anger, Weesner tells the tale in the second person point of view. We are given access to Alex's thoughts, and he turns out to be quite the tabula rasa. But should we be surprised that a young man would be anything other than uncertain and blatantly confused at 16?

Weesner seems to know what he is doing here. Alex, wandering about aimlessly through life, has been affected by a drunk father and a mother who not only abandoned him at a young age, but also took his younger brother Howard with her. It takes time throughout our hero's trials and tribulations for him to understand how and to what extent these events have shaped him. As Alex matures, the tabula rosa is gradually filled with a personality, self-realization, and an immense amount of courage.

Upon emerging from the detention house, Alex is sent home to the dysfunctional throes of living with his father. Furthermore, he is thrust back into his junior year of high school with no hope of passing his junior year. What he faces, without the aid of a steady role model, is the skepticism of teachers, the fists of the school jock, and mockery and humiliation from his principle and basketball coach. Like Holden Caufield, Alex Housman cannot change his circumstance at such a young age. He is unable to escape from the influences that caused him to submit to delinquency, and the world around him has defined his identity before he has had the volition to do so. Staring at the water one morning in his father's car, he sees clearly the main obstacle holding him at bay:

The dream of swimming and fishing flashed through him again. It seemed he had only to get rid his father, that once his father was gone, the sweeping surface of the water would present itself completely.

Alex differs from Caufield in his demeanor and in his patience. Unlike a truly fictional character who may mentally soar above their conflicts, Alex's character and his story are semi-autobiographical. He must wait until either his father is gone, or until he reaches an age that lends him the legal action he needs to escape. Furthermore, he must devise a plan to survive in the meantime.

Weesner admits the autobiographical nature of his novel in his new introduction. It is written with sincerity and honesty, as is the novel. This is not the book to read for laughs or for light-heartedness. But, from the very beginning, the novel makes a promise to deliver. The reader may deeply relate to Alex, the reader may simply be touched by his story, but ultimately the reader will do nothing other than cheer for his revelations and small victories: they are victories of the underdog and the rebel inside all of us.