Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Sutton

Sutton, by J.R. Moehringer, is a book I probably would never have read if it wasn't for my book club. I'm so happy I did. Sutton is historical fiction, based on the life of bank robber Willie "The Actor" Sutton. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea who Willie Sutton was.
Sutton follows a newly released Willie Sutton on his tour of New York with a reporter and photographer. Sutton is pushed into the story by his lawyer, but takes charge by insisting they follow a map highlighting important events in his life in chronological order. The novel goes back and forth between Willie's story and his interaction with the reporter and photographer on the tour. What results is a fascinating look into the mind of a bank robber whose career spanned several decades. At times Willie's version of the story is conflicted by others, which gives it an interesting "unreliable narrator" spin.
Willie Sutton is a complex character. This isn't some boring run-down of facts. J.R. Moehringer expertly builds Sutton from the ground up, starting with his childhood. He lays out all the events that lead Sutton to become a criminal, a perfect storm of circumstances that includes his upbringing, economic troubles of the day, friends, and the love of his life, Bess. And we see how, once he gets on this path, it is nearly impossible to go straight again. We see Sutton as someone who wants to be a good person, but who seemingly has no other choice at times than to resort to a life of crime. Once he gets drawn in, greed keeps him going back for more.
I'd give this book five stars, but I was a little disappointed to find after the fact that Willie had two wives and a daughter who were barely mentioned. I would have liked to see more about them instead of so much focus on Bess. I understand that Moehringer uses her as the driving force behind the route Willie takes with his life, but I feel like there is a whole other side of Willie we don't get to know.
Overall, this is a great read. It's a great blend of fact and fiction.
I mentioned Net Galley in my last post. Yesterday I got approved for my second Net Galley book, Havisham, by Ronald Frame. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the title of this book. Could it be? Yes, it could. It's about Catherine Havisham, from Dickens' Great Expectations. I remember very fondly the first time I encountered Miss Havisham. For me, she put the "great" in Great Expectations. I'm excited to see what Frame does with her story. I just hope I'm not too excited. I hate when I get all worked up about a book and set myself up for disappointment.

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