Author of ‘The Car Thief,’ dies at 79

Popular Novelist and Author died of congestive heart failure

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Theodore Weesner, a novelist and author of, “The Car Thief,” and whose half-dozen other books is known for their patient, realistic narratives and humanely considered characters, died on Thursday at a hospital near his home in Portsmouth, N.H. He was 79.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his son Theodore Jr. said.

Mr. Weesner’s conventional literary life of teaching and writing emerged from decidedly unconventional beginnings. The child of an alcoholic father and a teenage mother, he spent part of his youth with other children in an unofficial foster home, became a distressed and introspective teenager who turned to petty crime, never graduated from high school and lied about his age to join the Army at 17.

“The Car Thief,” published in 1972 after excerpts had appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire and The Atlantic Monthly, was a coming-of-age tale that critics found original, perspicacious and tender.

Like many writers, Mr. Weesner was a fervent advocate for his work, but unlike most he could wear that fervor on his sleeve. In 1987, after a tepid review of “The True Detective” appeared in the Times Book Review, Mr. Weesner wrote the editors an anguished letter, which they published.

“The book in question is one I worked on for more than five years, and it came alive, and it does work — it is relevant and it is compelling — and the responses I’ve received from others and in earlier reviews have been genuine, extravagant, even passionate,” he wrote. “Yet you chose to give it a short review, inconspicuously placed, and — I just cannot deal with this — your reviewer did not even understand what he read. I repeat: Your reviewer did not even understand what he read. And you printed it. You break my heart. You owe me much more than an apology.”

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