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.
When I read the blurb my ears perked up a bit. I mean, really. A young boy, Alex, abandoned by his mother, his father was either working night shifts or drinking. So Alex starts skipping school, stealing cars, smoking. I thought it was really interesting.
And it was, don't get me wrong. It was an interesting story. The reader gets to see Alex grow up from a troubled teenager to a young man enlisted in the Army. And you get to see the struggles he overcomes. Stealing cars, getting arrested, being released from detention and going back to school where he's just as alone as before. You get to see all that.
I felt the pacing was a little too slow for me. The inner monologue at times dragged a little too much for my comfort.
Also, there where moments where I didn't connect at all with Alex. I mean, I understood his reasons for doing what he did. He wanted attention, he needed to fit in and he did whatever it took. But there were too many moments of "he didn't want to do this, but he kept doing it", "he didn't want to be here, but he didn't leave", "he didn't want to eat, but he kept eating" and other similar moments. It was in those moments that I couldn't help but think "well, if you don't want to..., don't". Those moments pulled me out of the story a few times.
It is possible that I had high expectations to begin with. My experience with coming-of-age stories isn't that big, so maybe that's a factor.
If you like coming-of-age stories, this could be the book for you.