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Theodore Weesner: The Car Thief
Though it is not named, Flint, Michigan, is the setting of this story, recognisable from street names. It tells the story of Alex, a sixteen-year old juvenile delinquent who, as the title tells, us is a car thief. The story starts with his driving a coppertone 1959 Buick Rivera. The 1960 models are already out but he has to make do with a 1959 model. He had stolen the car ten days before and switched number plates. He had also stolen money from the school lockers. Should be return the money? No, they would not forgive him. But he has made a mistake. He had found a camel hair coat in the back of the car and given it to Eugenia. Eugenia’s mother had called the police and they had arrested him at school. He is sent to a detention centre. After his release, he goes back to his father, who is divorced from his mother (she has remarried and Alex’s brother lives with her and her husband). He also goes back to school, where he is beaten up by the other students for stealing from the lockers. He drops out of school and eventually joins the army. In short, a life like many other kids.
This novel keeps appearing on lists of underrated novels and it is easy to see why. Weesner is not judgemental. He tells Alex’s story in a straightforward manner but, gradually, we learn to sympathise with Alex and his dreams. He wants to play basketball, he wants a girlfriend, he wants to escape. His father is a weak man, who works at the car plant in Flint and Alex cannot look up to him. But, as we follow Alex, we start to understand him and that is the strength of Weesner’s novel.
First published 1972 by Random House