Friday, June 22, 2012

The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner

We first meet Alex Housman when he is 16 years old, after he's stolen his fourteenth car.  He can't quite pinpoint the reason why he does it but for perhaps an intangible feeling of being trapped in a tedious life filled with expectations that have no reward.  Alex is smart but not interested in school.  His father's job working second shift at the Chevy plant has the two of them living in a part of town that shames him.  His father dresses sharp but is prone to alcoholic binges that give Alex plenty of time alone to struggle with his feelings or do his best to avoid them by joyriding in other people's cars.  A self-made outcast, Alex has already seemingly hit the point of no return when readers turn the first page.  He's already coming to terms with the fact that he'll soon be arrested, and so he is.  What follows is Alex's story of detention and his struggle to fit back into his old life or a create a new one after his release.

Weesner's writing is austere in the same way some indie movies are austere, with no music, no frills or stunts to draw your attention from the rawness of his main character's journey.  Dialogue only makes an occasional appearance in the pages of The Car Thief.  A book with such limited dialogue can make for a slow-going slog, but such is not the case with The Car Thief. We live inside Alex's head as he seems to drift from place to place, vaguely ashamed of his alcoholic father and the evidence of their low-income life, making awkward and painful missteps with girls, with would-be friends, with the brother who he remembers fondly but seems to have moved beyond his reach.  His thoughtful and emotional journey is so absorbing that the missing dialogue seems of little import.

Alex is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield without the obvious and irritating wall of cynicism.  Alex's struggles with life's realities - recognizing his father for what he is both good and bad, his recognition of school as another version of captivity, and his realization that after crime and punishment he's no longer able to fit back into the mold of his past life - are dealt with convincingly and paced in just such a way that readers will feel that they are making these discoveries just as Alex is and not before. 
The Car Thief's coming of age story is brutally honest, painfully wrought, and compelling to read.

The Car Thief is an excellent kick-off for Astor and Blue's Digital First publishing model, which entails releasing books first in e-book format and following that with print editions.  Books get all the trappings of traditional publishers - vetting, marketing push, good books - without that expensive initial run to the paper presses.  Okay, that might not be a huge sell for me in my e-readerless corner of the world (I'm starting to feel like a curmudgeonly traditionalist, "Back in my day, books were made of paper, kids!  And we had to carry those heavy things 3 miles to school in the snow uphill both ways!), but realist me has to wonder if this kind of publishing model really is the way of the future.  I mean, it doesn't seem too farfetched to change over from the whole hardback to paperback publishing model of old to an e-book to print book publishing model of new wherein curmudgeons who like books to be made of paper have to wait for the book they want instead of cheapskate paperback lovers waiting to get what the book they want as in the past. 

P.S. If you're not an old-fashioned girl like me, you can get the book here.  Also, if you want a deal on a good read, you can grab it for a paltry $2.99 for Kindle until Sunday (June 24th).

(Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by a publicist in exchange for my honest review.)
What do you think about publishing this way?  And am I the last one that hasn't bowed out to the e-reader thing? 

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking that sounded like slow going with little dialogue and I'm glad to see it's not. I'm still not sure it's for me, though, because I don't like books that take place in the narrator's head.

    I have a couple e-readers and have discovered they're not for me so I don't think much of that publishing model.