Monday, September 23, 2013

Sutton by J.R. Moehringer

Willie Sutton was one of the last great bank robbers and a folk hero to the Depression-strapped Americans who lost it all thanks to the crooks in suits that ran the banking industry. But Sutton was also quite a storyteller, which is what captivated former journalist Moehringer: Sutton wrote two autobiographies (which contradict one another), and the police reports don't tell the same story as the newspaper accounts. So Moehringer spun a fiction story between the "facts" of the known story.

The book takes place on the day Sutton is released from Attica State Prison, Christmas 1969. He's picked up and put up by a New York newspaper reporter and photographer who have been promised the exclusive on his first 24 hours of freedom. Willie takes them on an epic roadtrip through his past and all over New York City - much to their chagrin. Between stops, we get Willie's story through his reminiscence - but reporter and photographer get barely anything; we hear Willie's thoughts, but they're left in the cold.

I'll read anything J.R. Moehringer writes (I loved his memoir "The Tender Bar" and read Agassi's "Open" because he was the ghostwriter) and this one was no disappointment. He's so good at putting you right into the action that non-fiction (or pseudo non-fiction) feels like great fiction.

At 15 hours long, this audiobook is practically "real-time" - I felt like I was spending Christmas Day in the car right along with Willie, reporter, and photographer. I loved the story, and many times I was compelled to further research a fact or character to find out how much was real. It's a great inside look at a period of American history that tends to get written off in broad strokes of Depression, poor, blah blah. I feel I better understand the frustrations and struggles through Sutton's story (even if it's hypothetical, pseudo-fiction, and unreliable).

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