Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Poignant Novel Set in Flint

In one of the other blogs I follow, Flint Expatriates, energetically run by former Flint boy Gordon Young, somebody recently brought up a novel by Theodore Weesner titled The Car Thief. This wonderful first novel, which came out in 1972 (above is the original cover) was reissued by Grove Press in 2001 and apparently still is selling respectably and regarded highly. Weesner, who grew up in Flint and got his high school diploma via GED, is a longtime New Hampshire resident. Rereading the first few pages of the novel on a cold, dark Flint night, I'm struck by how Weesner gets at something so bleak about this town -- a bleakness that lurks here still, in the opening images of his bitter yet vulnerable teenage anti-hero.

Here's how it starts:

Again today Alex Housman drove the 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.

The storm, the falling snow, had come early to Michigan’s Thumb, for it was not yet November…By evening, a chilling breeze had begun moving through the city, blowing over the wide by-passes and elevated freeways. Now in the morning the snow-covering was overall. It was four or five inches deep, as wet as a blanket soaked in water, as gray and full in the sky as smoke from the city’s concentrations of automobile factories.

A cigarette Alex had not wanted so early in the morning was wedged in the teeth of the ashtray drawer. He could not remember having lighted it, and he thought about snuffing it out but made no move to do so. The dry smoke reached over the dashboard like a girl’s hair in water. Picking up the cigarette, discovering either weakness or nervousness in his fingers, he drew his lungs full and replaced it in the teeth of the drawer. The smoke burned his eyes, as if from within, and he squinted as they watered.

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