Interview with the author of The Car Thief, Theodore Weesner

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    The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner is about 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. Weesner’s book is an interesting tale that many can easily relate to and will enjoy reading. The raw emotion and power are felt with the characters and the story they tell us readers.

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    Interview, the author in his own words  

    (I’m working to answer those questions in a personal memoir I have underway called ‘Hoodlum Artist.’)  As a short answer let me say that I lived a stupid and ignorant life of deprivation that commenced on being abandoned at age one, with my brother Jack, age three, to a 550 pound immobile woman named Alice Sleeseman, who took in children from broken homes in Flint’s ‘Little Missouri.’  We may have been dirty and scrawny but ours was a ‘Summerhill’ life of almost total freedom (I recall nothing but happiness, exploration, adventure) and I’m not complaining.  If I was damaged on having been abandoned by my mother, I’m not smart enough to say.  She was fifteen when she gave birth for the first time, on proceeding into a life devoted to drinking, dancing and honky-tonking.  She never visited, while my father stopped by every other weekend or so to see how Jack and I were doing.  Grandma Sleeseman, as we called her, made her way each morning to a centrally-located rocker from which she issued instructions, sending Jack and me with some dollars and a rusty wagon to a grocery store on Fenton Road to buy food supplies, and instructing other children of the house in the preparation of meals in the kitchen.  Jack and I always had an eye out for the appearance of our father’s green Chevy and the thrill we felt when it came into view.   After four years, my father got together with a farm woman named Hattie Rex and set up housekeeping near Chevy Plants Two and Ten in Flint where he had worked since riding the rails north from Kansas a decade earlier.  As loving as he usually was, he was a hopeless alcoholic already fixed on suicide as a way to escape a life he knew to have been an abject failure.  When I was sixteen and our white trash life lay broken about us yet again—Jack enlisted in the Air Force, Hattie (whom we had begun calling Mom) departed to an apartment to escape my father’s drinking and beatings, my father and I relocated to life in an attic apartment with slanted ceilings—he succeeded in his threat of self-destruction, leaving his body and the rifle with which he shot himself in the chest for me to find on returning home from school.  Having engaged in numerous scrapes myself with authorities (car theft and incarceration at the Genesee County Juvenile Detention Home chief among them) my father’s death set me free in a surprising way to become an adult.    Moving in for a time with Hattie, I was sent to Burbank, California with my father’s half-brother to be taken in, as a sixteen-year-old, by a generous and childless couple made up of my father’s sister and her husband.  As this testing of a new life in a new school in Burbank quietly failed, I returned to Flint by bus, to living with Hattie, who continued working second shift at AC Spark Plug while I worked once more to regain my standing at Flint Central High School.  Working as a part-time carry-out boy at Hamady’s, minding my own business and striving to get my life on track, I wandered into the stands of a high school football game one Friday evening after work, only to find myself inexplicably charged, on Monday at school, with fighting in the end zone.  The witness making the charge was the Principal himself, on having used binoculars from Atwood Stadium’s 50-yard line to make his identification.  At a subsequent hearing attended by my step-mother as well as the Superintendent of Public Schools–where the Principal wept in the face of the terrible punishment he felt compelled to administer despite my claims of innocence–I was permanently discharged from Flint Central, never to be allowed to set foot on school grounds again.   Disturbed at cheated, needing at all costs to prove myself, I began to become an over-achiever.  Having turned seventeen, enlisting in the army as a GED, I soon became a model soldier who—by the time my three years were up, spending all but six months in Germany—I had qualified for OCS (based on high test scores, ranked in the 99th percentile) and, as a decent athlete, had also been considered for appointment to West Point…which consideration was quietly withdrawn when my juvenile criminal history and time served came to added light.   Admitted by some quirk to Michigan State University, I continued as an over-achiever, giving my all to catching up with the proper kids who had left me behind.  Qualifying for a newly launched Honors College, I also received Hinman Creative Research scholarships with which to supplement my monthly checks under the GI Bill.  I was invited as well, as a junior, to represent the giant-sized University in competition for a Rhodes Scholarship.  Not wishing to undertake the competition and interviews, having fallen in love by then—having been ‘called’—to be nothing less than an artist committed to creative writing, I went on in search of success in the craft…and never looked back.  All along, in my writing, I had been exploring conflicts I had known before landing on my feet in the army and as a student.  So it was that I called my first novel, which was inspired by need, experience, and artistic hunger, ‘The Car Thief,’ during the writing of which I drew on the guts of my own history in search of valid themes and exquisitely realistic details.                                                               Theodore Weesner     

     

    Praise for The Car Thief Described as “one of the best coming of age novels of the Twentieth Century,” Theodore Weesner’s modern American classic, The Car Thief is poised for a new generation to discover.   Once talked about as an undiscovered American classicThe Car Thief is now re-launched—by upstart “Digital First” publisher Astor + Blue Editions—in a beautifully-designed electronic book format (to be followed by its print edition) in order to finally reach the audience that the book and author so richly deserve.  (ISBN: 978-1-938231-01-8, Ebook, April 24, 2012).   It’s 1959.  Sixteen year-old Alex Housman has just stolen his fourteenth car and frankly doesn’t know why.  His divorced, working class father grinds out the night shift at the local Chevy Plant in Detroit, kept afloat by the flask in his glove compartment and the open bottles in his Flint, Michigan home.   Abandoned and alone, father and son struggle to express a deep love for each other, even as Alex fills his day juggling cheap thrills and a crushing depression. He cruises and steals, running from, and to, the police, compelled by reasons he frustratingly can’t put into words.  And then there’s Irene Shaeffer, the pretty girl in school whose admiration Alex needs like a drug in order to get by.  Broke and fighting to survive, Alex and his father face the realities of estrangement, incarceration, and even violence as their lives hurtle toward the climactic episode that a New York Times reviewer called “one of the most profoundly powerful in American fiction.”   In this rich, beautifully crafted story, Weesner accomplishes a rare feat:  He’s written a transcendent piece of literature in deceptively plain language, painting a gripping portrait of a father and a son, otherwise invisible among the mundane, everyday details of life in blue collar America.  A true and enduring American classic.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

      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 YorkerEsquireSaturday Evening PostAtlantic Monthly and Best American Short Stories.  His novels, including The True DetectiveWinning the City and Harbor Light, have been published to great critical acclaim in the New York TimesThe Washington PostHarper’sThe Boston GlobeUSA TodayThe 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.   MORE PRAISE FOR THE CAR THIEF   One of the great coming of age novels of the twentieth century… Ted Weesner’s seminal novel demands a second look for its marvelously rendered young protagonist, the unforgettable Alex Housman; for its courage and wisdom and great good heart.”   Jennifer Haigh  – New York Times Bestselling Author of Broken Towers, Faith, Mrs. Kimple and The Condition   “Theodore Weesner has written a story so modestly precise and so movingly inevitable that before I knew what was happening to me I felt in the grip of some kind of thriller.”   Joseph McElroy, New York Times   The Car Thief is a poignant and beautifully-written novel, so true and so excruciatingly painful that one can’t read it without feeling the knife’s cruel blade in the heart.”   Margaret Manning, The Boston Globe   A remarkable, gripping novel.”   –Joyce Carol Oates, Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing, Princeton University, Pulitzer Prize Nominee, National Book Award Winner, Author of Black Water, What I Lived For, and Blonde   “Weesner’s perfectly restrained and subtle exploration of the characters’ painful and often difficult emotions caused me to have an intimate and emotional connection to a character and story of such a seemingly distant world. It taught me that even the most personal of stories can be universal and it is with this belief that I have adaptedThe Car Thief into what I hope will be a film that does some justice to the most beautiful novel that ever broke my heart.”   —Dara Van Dusen, Filmmaker   “A simply marvelous novel.  Alex (the protagonist) emerges from it as a kind of blue-collar Holden Caulfield.   Kansas City Star   “Weesner lays out a subtle and complex case study of juvenile delinquency that wrenches the heart. The novel reminds me strongly of the poignant aimlessness of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Beneath its quiet surface, The Car Thief—like its protagonist—possesses churning emotions that push up through the prose for resolution.  Weesner is definitely a man to watch—and read.”   —S. K. Oberbeck, Newsweek   “The measure of Weesner’s very great achievement is that he has endowed [his characters’] lives with such compelling interest and, even more, a certain beauty.”   The Boston Globe   What The Car Thief is really concerned with emerges between its realistic lines—slowly, delicately, with consummate art.  Perhaps Mr. Weesner himself put it best: ‘In my work, I guess I wish for nothing so much as to get close enough to things to feel their heart and warmth and pain, and in that way appreciate them a little more.’ Judging from this book, his wish has been fulfilled…and then some.”   Christopher Lehmann-HauptThe New York Times   Moving and suspenseful, The Car Thief is a fine, fine achievement.”   —The Nashville Tennessean   READER REVIEWS   “It is moving, and heartbreaking, and I couldn’t put it down. I also feel a kind of connection to this book because it is set in my home town of Flint Michigan. If you like stories about teenage angst, and the classic anti-hero then this is the book for you.”   Teresa LottCalifornia   “MODERN CLASSIC”… THE CAR THIEF is a book so poignant, so well written and articulate that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel the weight of its sorrow. I taught this book to all my Modern Lit classes and every student found it tremendously moving–and a great example of modern prose style. Ted Weesner is a fine writer, and I recommend his other titles as well.”   Jack Gantos, Boston   “I stumbled onto this book by accident many years ago…and thank God I did. It is one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking tales of growing up I’ve ever read. Anybody who ever had a tiny streak of wildness in their youthful soul will revel in every page. I go back and re-read this book every couple of years…and I always see something new.”   Noel Tristan Strong, New York   “In my opinion, this book should appeal to all men who have passed through (or are passing through) adolesence…The structure and pacing of the novel completely pulls you into a world of (teenage) frustration and depression.  More than most characters in literature, I found myself deeply identifying with the novel’s main character, Alex Housman. His struggles depict the aimless melancholy one feels as a teenager. Having gone through the transition from child to adult, I found myself fully understanding (if not always agreeing with) Alex’s actions.”   “Theodore Weesner should be commended for his portrayal of the father/son relationship, between Alex and his father, which is really the heart of the novel. Through deceptively simple actions and dialogue, Weesner brings to life a terribly complex relationship that, in the hands of another author, might be difficult to understand.”   Lobot, Boston  

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