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Sutton by J. R. Moehringer

Sutton (2012)

by J. R. Moehringer

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On Christmas, 1969, America’s most beloved bank robber, Willie Sutton, is released by Nelson Rockefeller. He taken in tow by two journalists, Reporter and Photographer, who want an exclusive. He wants them to drive him around Brooklyn and Manhattan to the most important places in his life. Each stop triggers memories in Sutton, and he regales his handlers with stories of his bloodless robberies, his daring escapes, and, above all, his one true love, Bess. Reporter, however, is under orders from his editor to get Sutton’s reaction to the horror that capped his career: the murder of Arnold Schuster, the naïve youth whose recognition of Sutton led to his final arrest. At this point, Sutton breaks down in a way that leads the reader to suspect that he has been deceiving the journalists and himself.
Dylan Baker, the reader, is an actor I’ve seen often on television, most recently in the fourth season of “The Americans.” He gives a performance as much as a reading here. He establishes a slightly New Yorkish accent for the basic narration, then gives Sutton a tired rasp of an old man; Reporter, a youthful, anxious, begging tone; Photographer, an obnoxious, very New Yawt know-it-all whine. He gives also gives the best vocalizations of women that I’ve heard. He does overdo it at time, but he succeeds in the important task of making the rich heart of the story come to life. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Feb 16, 2018 |
Well read by the narrator! It certainly added dimensions to the book.

I enjoyed it -- it's always good to like the protagonist, and I did find myself rooting for the "bad guy" even though you know how it ends (because of how it begins). All Willy's ups and downs, his tenacity, it's admirable even while it's incredible.

Comments on the conclusion:
The scene at the end with Bess's granddaughter -- that was good. It reframes your perspective and makes you question everything you "believed" from the story. That makes for a good conclusion. Was the epilogue-esque part with Reporter, 11 years later, necessary? I didn't think it was, except that you learn a bit about Willy after the interview. Nothing new, however, that really added to the story (aside from the conflicting memoirs and missing novel). The way Reporter reflects on the encounters with Willy since the interview paints a totally different picture of their relationship than I took from the main narrative. It felt untrue to the story, though perhaps it is part of the non-fiction component?

Either way, the profound observations and statements Sutton makes on life are worthwhile, even if you question his sanity. That just adds another layer to the puzzle of life. ( )
  LDVoorberg | Dec 3, 2017 |
I finished this book several days ago and I find my thoughts returning to it. I try to imagine myself growing up in Sutton's neighborhood in the early years of 1900 and facing the poverty, despair and futility of everyday existence. Up one day, flat out the next with no prospects. We have all heard the stories of the signs "Irish need not apply."

Several other readers mentioned the sub-treatise on the banking industry and there is no doubt that he parallels the industry then and now. I am not sure it was necessary. The banks existed and Willie Sutton chose to rob them because that is where the money was.

The truly interesting aspect of this book for me was the insight into the personality of Willie Sutton and I enjoyed all the literary devices Moehringer used to bring Sutton to life. Sutton is depicted as a man who knew love and whether it was love found, lost or imagined it was all believable. The brutality he endured - all believable. The book was worth every minute devoted to it. ( )
1 vote kimkimkim | Aug 21, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (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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