The Car Thief, by Theodore Weesner

The back cover of Theodore Weesner's The Car Thief describes the book as a "modern American classic" featuring “heartbreak, cruel realities, and stunning personal triumphs”. That may be true, but allow me to issue a word of warning: you have to wade through a lot of heartbreak and cruel reality before you get to any personal triumphs.

The Car Thief was originally published in 1972. The story opens in late 1950s Michigan, where a sixteen-year-old boy named Alex has just stolen his fourteenth car. Alex, who lives with his depressed, alcoholic father, is self-destructive and impulsive—careless with girls, rude to adults, and incapable of explaining his compulsive car theft, even to himself. When the local police finally catch him, Alex is sent to juvenile detention, a change that encourages him to take the first baby steps toward self-awareness.

Weesner is a deft writer, with a gift for poetic descriptive passages. Unfortunately, Alex and his father are difficult characters to sympathize with—inarticulate depression is one thing, but dealing with it by stealing cars or drinking yourself into a stupor when you're supposed to be taking care of your teenage son is another. I think I was supposed to see some kind of larger theme about the fragility of mid-20th century American masculinity in their mutual inability to deal with their problems, but mostly I just saw one fully-grown jerk and a potential jerk in the making.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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