ARC, Kindle, 400 pages
Astor + Blue Editions
May 10, 2012
Source: Received for review from Publisher
“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, looking forward to the flask in his glove compartment, and the open bottles of booze 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. 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 unfold toward the climactic episode that a New York Times reviewer called “one of the most profoundly powerful in American fiction.”
This was a very hard book for me to categorize. In trade descriptions it is touted as an undiscovered American classic. It is also definitively a coming of age novel. It also has elements of historical fiction – although it isn’t quite old enough to be firmly seated there.
While reading this novel I had flashbacks to my experience in high school reading A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; that in and of itself was a point of contention for me. Like Catcher it took me a long time to read this book because there were not many events to carry you along the plot. It was more of a soul searching, inner turmoil experience that made for not quite compelling reading. I kept thinking that it would get more exciting, but it didn’t until the small climactic blip before it slowed back down again.
This novel cannot be described as anything without being described as a coming of age novel. The main character, Alex Housman, is a teenager who, throughout the pages, grows from a young man who steals cars for no real reason to a man who is more sure about his direction in life and begins to make sound decisions. I often found myself very frustrated with the decisions of both Alex and his father.
The reading experience for me was a little split. If hard pressed, I would say that I didn’t really enjoy the first half of the novel. This was more of his troubled period and his stay at the detention home just did not make for compelling reading. As I reached the second half of the novel my experience improved because Alex became a less static character and he stopped being so hung up on himself and began to grow. I enjoyed the setting of this novel. You could feel Detroit and Flint, Michigan ooze from the pores of the pages. Alex’s father works at the Chevrolet car manufacturing plant and you can feel how the car culture embeds itself into the community.
A solid read but I wouldn’t describe it as vastly interesting.
You can read a sample from the book below to get a feel for the style.
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