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.
This is our introduction to the hero of this book, although in reality this sixteen year old boy is less rebel without a cause, more lost without a compass bearing. Alex has no understanding of why he steals cars beyond a restlessness, an ache for something different than the life he has.
“Billy don't like it living here in this town
He says traps have been sprung long before he was born
He says "hope bites the dust behind all the closed doors
And pus and grime ooze from its scab-crusted sores
There's screaming and crying in the high-rise blocks"
It's a rat trap, Billy, but you're already caught
And you can make it if you want to or you need it bad enough
You're young and good-looking and you're acting kind of tough
Anyway it's Saturday night, time to see what's going down
Put on a bright suit, Billy, head for the right side of town
It's only eight o'clock, but you're already bored
You don't know what it is, but there's got to be more
You'd better find a way out, hey, kick down that door
It's a rat trap, and you've been caught” *
Alex Housman is intelligent, yet school holds no interest for him, he lives with his father in a part of town that, if he had friends, he would be to ashamed to take them. His father has moments of sobriety between his alcoholic normality whilst still holding down a job working the second shift at the local Chevy plant. Alex spends an awful amount of time by himself, struggling with feelings that bubble & boil just below the surface, or else he buries them behind the wheel of a stolen car. The inevitable happens and he is arrested, as both Alex and reader knew he would be. Taken to a detention home, he finds himself locked up with no idea of a release date. Confined, with no way to escape or hide from himself, forces Alex to confront his feelings & acts as a catalyst. We follow Alex as he faces this moment and the issues that arise from it, until an event both horrific & yet ultimately freeing sends him off on a path that will define his life.
The car thief is a blunt & harsh tale of one individual trapped in a world not of their own making, with seemingly no way out. The writing has a simplicity that allows all the intensity of Alex’s life to be laid bare without any unnecessary embellishment. This is a tale that appears devoid of hope and yet a slight glimmer shines and in grasping that we can see there are possibilities of a future. Having read Theodore Weesner’s biography, made me realise that this is a work of autofiction & it takes quite a chunk of his youth as the basis of the tale. This isn’t meant as a slight on the book, just a relevant observation.
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 to name a few.
Weesner is currently writing 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.
*This is part of a single called Rat Trap written by Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats, it reached #1 in the UK singles charts in November 1978 and tells the tale of a boy who feels trapped by where & how he lives.
Rat Trap - Boomtown Rats (You Tube)
Astor +Blue Editions is an innovative “Digital First” Publisher dedicated to producing the highest quality eBooks and custom print editions by leveraging the very latest in digital technology.