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Sutton by J.R. Moehringer
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Sutton (original 2012; edition 2012)

by J.R. Moehringer

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3672229,545 (3.75)16
Member:Cecilturtle
Title:Sutton
Authors:J.R. Moehringer
Info:Hyperion (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:American fiction, fictional biography, crime

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Sutton by J. R. Moehringer (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A fictional rendering of the life of notorious bank-robber and jail-breaker Willie Sutton, who supposedly answered a reporter's question about why he robbed banks with the classic line "Because that's where the money is". Sutton, later in life, said that he probably would have said that if anyone asked him that question, because it's pretty obvious, but that the story wasn't true..."The credit belongs to some enterprising reporter who apparently felt a need to fill out his copy..." [Sutton] is based on an enterprising reporter's attempt to get Willie's story on Christmas Day, 1969, after Willie had been released from prison for the last time, in ill health. Willie takes Reporter and Photographer (these characters and many others in the book, are referred to only by their occupations) on a tour of his old haunts around Manhattan and Brooklyn, ostensibly leading up to the big pay-off, i.e. his revealing what really happened to the clean-cut kid who spotted him and alerted the cops several years after Willie's last successful prison break. Reporter and Photographer don't get much but tired, but Reader.....Reader gets the works. This is one of the most engrossing stories I've read in a long time. The crimes he committed are not the focus of the tale; Moehringer (an enterprising reporter himself) has fleshed out the man, and given us a Willie Sutton we can understand...not just a cardboard cut-out 20th century Robin Hood, but a real human struggling to survive, to do what he's good at, and maybe find a little love.
Review written July 2014 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Jun 7, 2017 |
While J.R. Moehringer was watching the news in 2008, with the world’s banking systems going down the tubes, people losing their life savings, and no-one holding the banks accountable, he became very angry. He thought of the bank robber Willie Sutton, whom he had heard stories about as a child growing up in Brooklyn. Sutton had become mythological for his prolific bank heists and his three escapes from prisons. Moehringer then wrote this touching novelization of what could have happened the day Sutton was released from prison on Christmas in 1969 had he revisited the places from his past.

Moehringer researched Willie Sutton and visited the places that he had traversed during his crime sprees. Along with the stories he heard in boyhood, he had plenty of files to work with in visualizing this story.

It’s interesting to me that so many characters (other than an old woman he meets at The Farm Colony) all have descriptive names such as Bad Cop, Good Cop, Reporter, Photographer, Head Nurse. I was wondering why Moehringer would do this. It sort of muddies their faces for me, like maybe the message is that Sutton doesn’t want to know them any deeper. He certainly didn’t want to reveal any of himself to them. Then again, maybe it’s an extension of the world Sutton was in where so many of his cronies had a nickname. There’s Crazy Joe, Angel of Death, Happy, Mad Dog, Botchy. The list goes on.

This book really opened my eyes to some of the white-washing the United States has done with its own history. Never in my school days was I told that every 10-15 years or so the country will have a recession and hey, you should probably prepare for it. Nope, I was told about the Great Depression and everything else was swept under the rug. I was told that as long as you work hard you will be fine. That’s a lie. You can work hard for years and still lose everything. And the banks will come out the winners.

Early in the book, in the summer of 1914, Willie’s friend Eddie rants about this:

Some f***in system, he says. Every ten or fifteen years it crashes. Aint no system, that’s the problem. It’s every man for his-f***in-self. The Crash of ’93? My old man saw people standin in the middle of the street bawlin like babies. Wiped out. Ruined. But did those bankers get pinched? Nah- they got richer. Oh the government promised it would never happen again. Well it happened again didn’t it fellas? In ’07. And ’11. And when them banks fell apart, when the market did a swan dive, didn’t them bankers walk away scot-free again?

Another theme running through the novel is the subject of memory. How much of our memory is really the way things happened and how much is what we want to believe? Sutton’s version of events is highly entertaining but is it entirely accurate? Read through to the end to find out.

I only have one minor quibble in an otherwise engaging story. I thought the ending was a little strange because I didn’t understand why Reporter went to the theme park. Maybe I just missed something.

The world doesn’t know the genuine Willie Sutton. He wrote two autobiographies which contradict each other. At different times he was lauded and then reviled by his neighborhood, the cops, and the country. Was he really a ‘gentleman bandit’? Did he give money away (I think he did – or is it that I hope he did)?

Moehringer’s book, The Tender Bar, an autobiography, has been on my to-read list for years. I really should break it out soon. It would be great if Sutton had bigger publicity. I can only say that it is definitely worth a read, especially if you are interested in criminal history. ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
While J.R. Moehringer was watching the news in 2008, with the world’s banking systems going down the tubes, people losing their life savings, and no-one holding the banks accountable, he became very angry. He thought of the bank robber Willie Sutton, whom he had heard stories about as a child growing up in Brooklyn. Sutton had become mythological for his prolific bank heists and his three escapes from prisons. Moehringer then wrote this touching novelization of what could have happened the day Sutton was released from prison on Christmas in 1969 had he revisited the places from his past.

Moehringer researched Willie Sutton and visited the places that he had traversed during his crime sprees. Along with the stories he heard in boyhood, he had plenty of files to work with in visualizing this story.

It’s interesting to me that so many characters (other than an old woman he meets at The Farm Colony) all have descriptive names such as Bad Cop, Good Cop, Reporter, Photographer, Head Nurse. I was wondering why Moehringer would do this. It sort of muddies their faces for me, like maybe the message is that Sutton doesn’t want to know them any deeper. He certainly didn’t want to reveal any of himself to them. Then again, maybe it’s an extension of the world Sutton was in where so many of his cronies had a nickname. There’s Crazy Joe, Angel of Death, Happy, Mad Dog, Botchy. The list goes on.

This book really opened my eyes to some of the white-washing the United States has done with its own history. Never in my school days was I told that every 10-15 years or so the country will have a recession and hey, you should probably prepare for it. Nope, I was told about the Great Depression and everything else was swept under the rug. I was told that as long as you work hard you will be fine. That’s a lie. You can work hard for years and still lose everything. And the banks will come out the winners.

Early in the book, in the summer of 1914, Willie’s friend Eddie rants about this:

Some f***in system, he says. Every ten or fifteen years it crashes. Aint no system, that’s the problem. It’s every man for his-f***in-self. The Crash of ’93? My old man saw people standin in the middle of the street bawlin like babies. Wiped out. Ruined. But did those bankers get pinched? Nah- they got richer. Oh the government promised it would never happen again. Well it happened again didn’t it fellas? In ’07. And ’11. And when them banks fell apart, when the market did a swan dive, didn’t them bankers walk away scot-free again?

Another theme running through the novel is the subject of memory. How much of our memory is really the way things happened and how much is what we want to believe? Sutton’s version of events is highly entertaining but is it entirely accurate? Read through to the end to find out.

I only have one minor quibble in an otherwise engaging story. I thought the ending was a little strange because I didn’t understand why Reporter went to the theme park. Maybe I just missed something.

The world doesn’t know the genuine Willie Sutton. He wrote two autobiographies which contradict each other. At different times he was lauded and then reviled by his neighborhood, the cops, and the country. Was he really a ‘gentleman bandit’? Did he give money away (I think he did – or is it that I hope he did)?

Moehringer’s book, The Tender Bar, an autobiography, has been on my to-read list for years. I really should break it out soon. It would be great if Sutton had bigger publicity. I can only say that it is definitely worth a read, especially if you are interested in criminal history. ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
I knew I was going to love this book after maybe thirty pages. Willie was endearing and I found myself rooting for him like the public did. Moehringer has a particular flair to his writing style that ever once in a while just hits you -- wow. Chapter Twenty Three though, more than three hundred pages through, it lost a star. It is probably not fair to dock its rating because my disappointment wasn't with the book so much as with human nature and story telling. Reporter explained it perfectly himself in the next chapter, we "[live] three separate lives. The one [we] remember, the one [we tell] people about, the one that really happened." I guess part of me just liked the life as Willie remembered and told it.
This review is only vague and equivocal because I don't want to spoil the novel. Some really terrifically quotable lines and a memorable main character. I love it when a book makes me wish I could sit down for a cup of coffee with one of its characters, this is one of those books. ( )
  Jackie_Sassa | Nov 20, 2015 |
Born on June 30, 1901 Willie “the Actor” Sutton was a notorious bank robber through the early part of the 1900’s. He died on November 02, 1980 after having spent more than half of his adult life in prison. He served time in several different penal institutions and managed dramatic escapes three times. Willie Sutton was a legend stealing more than $2 million during his dubious career. He became legendary mostly due to the fact that he never completed a robbery if a woman screamed or a baby cried and never hurt or killed anyone during his robberies. Willie was a gentleman thief, but also a smooth talker and a consummate liar so many versions of his escapades exist.

Mr. Moehringer begins his book on the day of Willie’s final release from Attica on Christmas Eve, 1969. Wanting an exclusive story “Reporter” and “Photographer” (Willie never can remember their names) are sent to get the exclusive story of the murder of Arnold Shuster, who recognized Willie on the subway, thereby sending him back to prison for the final time. Willie agrees to the interview but on his terms. He wants to visit the important places in his life in chronological order, finally getting to the scene of the Shuster shooting. Although it means traveling back and forth across the city of New York several times “Reporter” and “Photographer” agree. Each stop is a story told in Willie’s voice, an important event in his life, a memory sometimes sad and sometimes humorous.

Mr. Moehringer obviously did his research. I thoroughly enjoyed this book I wanted to know a little more about Willie Sutton, so did a little more reading about his life. I believe Mr. Moehringer waded through the various stories and factual accounts and wove them into his narrative. The book starts and ends on Christmas Eve of 1969, but the one night is filled with Willie’s memories of decades. Unfortunately the ending is bittersweet for both Willie and the reader.

This was my first read of 2013 and what a great way to start off the new year of reading. This is a five star book all the way. Mr. Moehringer does not go on to tell us about Willie’s life after his release, but my personal reading let me to believe that although he no longer robbed banks (???) and despite suffering from emphysema he still led a pretty interesting life. He became an advocate for prison reform, consulted with banks implementing anti-robbery techniques and even became a spokesperson for the New Britain Bank and Trust Company.
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
"Yet in nearly every scene, Moehringer slights the contrarieties, surprises and weirdness of Willie the Actor’s life in favor of a tired rich girl/poor boy tragedy of thwarted love."
 
"A captivating and absorbing read."
added by bookfitz | editKirkus Reviews (Sep 1, 2012)
 
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"I have said it thrice: What I tell you three time is true." - Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark
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For Roger and Sloan Barnett, with love and gratitude
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p 288 At Willie's request Mad Dog also brings him "Peace of Soul", by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. ... [Willie's] been troubled about his soul, he longs for peace ... Whole passages seem addressed to him. Remorse, according to Sheen, is a sin. Remorse is prideful, self-centered. Judas felt remorse. Instead, Sheen says, we must emulate Peter - who felt not remorse but God-centered regret. Willie has no remorse, and some days he feels nothing but regret, so he's comforted. According to Sheen, his account with God is square.
p 330 How many of the contradictions in Sutton's memoirs, or in his mind, were willful, and how many were dementia. Reporter doesn't know. His current theory is that Sutton lived three separate lives. the one he remembered, the one he told people about, the one that really happened. Where those lives overlapped, no one can say, and God help anyone who tries. More than likely, Sutton himself didn't know.
p 331 All we can have of Sutton, of each other, is Interesting Narratives.
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A fictionalized account of Willie Sutton, one of the most notorious criminals in American history, traces his life, his doomed romance with his first love, and his surprise pardon on Christmas Eve in 1969.

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