Stealing cars to fill a void in life.
The book in one sentence: The story of Alex Housman's life of quiet desperation.
Serious synopsis: Hailed by The Boston Globe as "so poignant and beautifully written, so true and painful, that one can't read it without feeling the knife's cruel blade in the heart," The Car Thief was first published to enormous popularity, and sold over half a million copies. Alex Housman is a kid who at the age of sixteen has had fourteen cars, harbors many hurts, and seems to fade into his environment while raging inside. His father is an alcoholic, losing his grip on life even as he wants the best for his son. The Car Thief explores the love Alex and his father share, in a tremendously poignant story that is filled with unusual triumphs.
My two cents:I won't lie. I had a difficult time getting into this one. I probably had three or or four false starts and I was about to give up on it. But I don't generally give up on books ... so I decided to just go back to the beginning and just focus.
Alex comes from a broken family. While loving and hardworking, his father struggles with his alcoholism. His father's heart is in the right place and he wants only the best for Alex ... but his own lack of aimlessness makes him inadequate to help Alex.
The writing feels detached. I could feel myself just feeling ... sad.
I had difficulty connecting with Alex Housman because he seemed so aloof and unfeeling. Alex steals cars so that he can take joyrides in them. Why? He doesn't know. He likes Irene Shaeffer, but what does he do about it? He lands himself in juvenile delinquent home and he does his time ... but then what of it? I couldn't understand his motivations, but then why do adolescents do anything?
But that I think is where the appeal of this book lies. That the story seems rather mundane points to the reality that this is the stuff of real life. There is no histrionics, no dramatic dialogue, no thunderclaps. Alex is a young man still not totally sure what is happening to him and his life and that feeling of being unrooted, restless, and naive is captured so well in the writing.
Alex eventually comes into his own as he learns life lessons the hard way. He learns the value of hard work. He eventually learns the truths about his family. He comes to terms with who he is, and who he can become.
One of the most heartbreaking moments is when Alex's father earnestly shares some words of wisdom:
"I want you to remember this now. You're still young. You still have your whole life ahead of you You have it, and it's yours to live, no matter if they send you away for a while or not. You try to understand that. I don't know what else I can say, or what advice I can give you, except that. [...]This book made me feel. I had an overwhelming feeling of sadness with the realization that so many young people struggle and feel their own quiet pain in this world. But at the same time, it left me with the sense that despite any obstacles, there is always hope to rise above it if one so chooses.
Alex had not quite seen what his father meant until now. It's funny he thought -- and he did not mean it was funny at all, but that it was so strange, he knew no word for it. [...]
- p. 285 (ARC, page may change), The Car Thief
Verdict: A quietly written story of a young man trying to make sense of his life. While set in 1959, the truths of Alex Housman's life of quiet desperation and aimlessness ring true today.