Saturday, December 16, 2017
Books

Review: J.R. Moehringer fictionalizes bank robber's life in 'Sutton'

Willie Sutton was a thug with a fan club. He robbed banks at gunpoint. If a manager refused to open the safe, he would threaten to kill the tellers.

But, as J.R. Moehringer points out in Sutton, his fictionalized excursion through the criminal's career from the 1930s through the 1950s, Willie was a "god in parts of Brooklyn." Why? Because he had the sympathies of a public for whom the local lender was more Old Man Potter than George Bailey.

"Who the hell has a kind word to say for banks?" Moehringer has a reporter ask upon Sutton's release from Attica prison. "They should not only let him out, they should give him the key to the city."

Moehringer's conceit for this novel is simple: On Christmas Eve of 1969 Sutton left prison for the last time. He spent the next day with a reporter and photographer driving around New York. Moehringer reconstructs that day, allowing his protagonist to look back on his life of crime.

The reliability of these memories comes into question at every turn. The picture is complicated more by Moehringer's imaginative departures from the known facts of Sutton's life.

Distortion and misrepresentation are central to that life. Known as "the Actor," he would pose as a police officer or deliveryman to catch bank security off guard. He wrote (or co-wrote) two memoirs, which contradict each other on basic facts.

And he never said he robbed banks because "that's where the money was." In Moehringer's telling, Sutton breaks the news about the apocryphal quote to his crestfallen reporter-escort, saying another journalist invented the line.

But Moehringer's Sutton embraces the legend, because it serves the robber's ends. The more people think he's a folk hero, the easier it is for him to pursue his career without examining its moral implications.

Moehringer's Sutton is less a Robin Hood than a self-absorbed schemer. The distortions, elisions and fables pile up until Sutton can no longer separate fact from fantasy, just as he has always had difficulty telling right from wrong.

This is not to say that the novel is all existential exploration. It's also a jaunty trek through several New Yorks. Sutton is sprung from Attica after almost 20 years into a city that has changed "on a subatomic level," where women wear miniskirts and men who visited the moon get ticker-tape parades.

Moehringer takes us back to postwar Brooklyn, when the Dodgers ruled, back further to the heyday of Dutch Schultz and finally to the start of the last century, when dirt roads and blacksmiths were not uncommon sights in the County of Kings.

For all its bittersweet nostalgia, though, Sutton is very much a novel of today. After the biggest economic setback since the Great Depression, banks again are popular targets of scorn and suspicion. Moehringer's Sutton expresses an opinion in 1969 that wouldn't be out of place at an Occupy Wall Street rally today:

"Mark me down as a believer in free enterprise. But when a few greedy bastards make up the rules as they go, that ain't free enterprise. It's a grift."

Comments
Adam Savage’s ‘Brain Candy Live!’ at the Straz Center: Canceled

Adam Savage’s ‘Brain Candy Live!’ at the Straz Center: Canceled

Looks like the idea of Brain Candy Live! returning to Tampa Bay in 2018 turned out to be a myth.The interactive science spectacular, co-hosted by MythBusters' Adam Savage, has canceled its upcoming North American tour, including a May 5 event at the ...
Published: 12/15/17
Here are this week’s pop culture winners and losers

Here are this week’s pop culture winners and losers

Salma HayekSalma Hayek has spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, calling the producer a "monster" who threatened her career and her life after she reportedly denied his sexual advances. Hayek said working with Weinstein on the film Frida was like "goi...
Published: 12/15/17
What to watch this weekend: ‘A Christmas Story Live,’ Star Wars movie marathon, Hollywood Christmas Parade

What to watch this weekend: ‘A Christmas Story Live,’ Star Wars movie marathon, Hollywood Christmas Parade

OH, FUDGE! A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE!The trend of live musicals broadcast on television isn't slowing down anytime soon, and A Christmas Story Live! — based on the classic holiday movie and Broadway musical — was ripe for the next taking. Fo...
Published: 12/15/17
Harry Potter’s Nymphadora Tonks, Natalia Tena, joins A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

Harry Potter’s Nymphadora Tonks, Natalia Tena, joins A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

The bubble gum pink-haired, shape-shifting witch Nymphadora Tonks from the last four Harry Potter films is headed to A Celebration of Harry Potter next month.Natalia Tena marks her first appearance at the annual wizarding world celebration Jan. 26-28...
Published: 12/14/17
Kids’ books a popular read at meteorologist Ginger Zee’s home

Kids’ books a popular read at meteorologist Ginger Zee’s home

NightstandGinger ZeeZee, 36, is the chief meteorologist at ABC News. In her newly released memoir, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them, I Am One, the Rockford, Mich., native details her multiyear struggle with depression and her life in the limelight. "It...
Published: 12/14/17
Notable: 50 years ago

Notable: 50 years ago

Notable50 years agoThese three books document some of the events of the cultural watershed that was 1967.Ali: A Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jonathan Eig is the first complete biography of boxing icon Muhammad Ali, who in 1967 refused to be dr...
Published: 12/14/17
Review: Kevin Young gives readers the truth about ‘Bunk’

Review: Kevin Young gives readers the truth about ‘Bunk’

We live in the age of the hoax.Believe me.And if you don’t believe me, believe Kevin Young, author of the sometimes disturbing but always fascinating new book Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News.In it, Yo...
Published: 12/14/17
Uber Eats is delivering 'free' chicken McNuggets across Tampa Bay

Uber Eats is delivering 'free' chicken McNuggets across Tampa Bay

You'll still have to pay the delivery fee, but the 10-piece McNuggets are free.
Published: 12/13/17
What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

What to watch this week: New season of ‘The Librarians,’ Gwen Stefani’s Christmas special

MondaySEASON FINALE: The Gifted, 9 p.m., Fox: The team at Mutant HQ is divided on what to do next after Jace is forced to hand over something valuable to Dr. Campbell.Disney's Fairytale Weddings: Holiday Magic, 8 p.m., Freeform: A behind-the-scenes l...
Published: 12/11/17
This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

This week’s pop culture winners and losers: Tonya Harding edition

WINNERS: Tonya Harding The once disgraced Olympic figure skater is no longer on thin ice in the pop culture world. Harding joined Margot Robbie, who is playing her in the upcoming film I, Tonya, on the red carpet this week. While Harding pleaded g...
Published: 12/08/17