The Best Thief in the World


Eleven-year-old Izzy Zaidman doesn't want to visit his father, Paul, in the hospital. Paul recently had a stroke that left him in a come, and Izzy can't seem to get himself to go see him. He would rather sit on the roof of his six-story tenement building in Washington Heights, legs dangling over the edge, and test himself to see if he'll fall.

All Izzy's mom, Sue, wants to do these days is survive. It's incredibly difficult to be a mother to three small children (there are also nine-year-old Amy and seven-year-old Sam) in a tough neighborhood with your husband in the hospital. One day, it gets worse: Paul comes home, paralyzed, brain-damaged, and barely able to speak. It's all Sue can do to keep everything from unraveling, and as the pressure builds, she leans on Izzy, her oldest, for support.

Meanwhile, Izzy has a secret: he likes to break into apartments. It's an addiction, really. The point isn't necessarily to steal—rather, it's to mess with the minds of the tenants by moving around the furniture, or taking all of the food out of the refrigerator and meticulously arranging it on the floor, while leaving their valuables untouched. It is a world he can control, and on in which, despite the occasional drama, he feels most at peace. The break-ins become an artistic expression of what is troubling Izzy most at the moment. After he has built a campfire in an apartment or smashed up some nice stuff, he knows that upon returning home the tenants will feel as confused and violated as he does.

But as gratifying as his thievery is to him, it's not enough. As the pressures at home become even more untenable, and Paul shows no signs of recovering, Izzy starts to crave the acceptance and approval of the rough kids he hangs out with in the local schoolyard. The quickest way to win their respect is to reveal his uncanny abilities as a thief. as it turns out, however, this revelation sends him spiraling into an emotional crisis. Up until now, the break-ins were his private way of surviving, but once the kids start spurring him to ever-riskier stunts, he moves from the relatively benign world of pseudo-robberies into truly dangerous criminal activity.

Sue tries to get Izzy under control, but each time she seems close to succeeding at pulling her eldest child back into the fold, he is again forced to face his father's affliction. After several heartbreaking attempts, he ultimately finds it unbearable.

The tension between the two conflicting worlds that Izzy lives in—the imagined one in the apartments he breaks into, and the painfully real one at home—finally causes him to snap. Up until the very last moments of The Best Thief in the World, it remains uncertain whether the Zaidmans will be able to reinvent themselves as a family before Izzy destroys himself and the ones he loves.

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