I read this line, within the first twenty pages of J.R. Moehringer’s Sutton, on the streetcar. I had been given the book by a colleague and had no real expectations. It was a book about a real life criminal, notorious for his bank robberies and ability to escape high-security prisons. But, like they say, love finds you when you least expect it. And, I can assure you, that is exactly how it happened.
First, to address my previous statement, I was wrong about the criminal stereotyping. William Francis Sutton was, by definition, a criminal. But he was also a lover of literature, a swell gardener, a loyal friend and a painstakingly devoted romantic. Known for his polite and charming persona, Sutton’s crimes were never violent. More than a criminal, Willie Sutton was a modern-day Robin Hood.
So when I read this line, I knew, J.R. Moehringer was going to make me love this man. And love him, I did. Though Sutton is a fictional story, it is based very accurately on historical events. Willie Sutton did grow up in the Irish slums, and did hold a severe resentment for the banks that swam in cash while the public starved. He did get arrested repeatedly, and subsequently escaped prison repeatedly. He was released from prison for the last time on Christmas Eve at the age of 68. He proceeded to write two memoirs, both of which contradicted the other, leaving so much room for the imagination to fill in the gaps. And I must admit, I am so glad that this is exactly what J.R. Moehringer did.
Upon his release from prison, Sutton was forced to drive around New York with a reporter, taking him to all the scenes of his life’s most significant moments. Moehringer frames the story of Willie’s life with this trip. New York comes alive in Moehringer’s vivid descriptions of the concrete jungle during the whole of the 1900’s. I was captivated. But more than this, I was moved.
Moehringer’s depiction of Willie Sutton was a force, from the narrative voice he is given, to his poetic thought and his astoundingly passionate love for the woman who lead him into a life of crime, Bess Endner. Willie’s story is not just one of money; it is primarily a story of love.
An entire world exists in the pages of this book. One that has dug deep into my heart and burrowed there. The amount of feeling that this novel evoked from me is a pure testament to the raw talent that is scribed within these pages. I proceeded to read everything I could on this book, Willie Sutton, and J.R. Moehringer. I will go as far as saying that Moehringer’s Willie Sutton is one of the most wonderful literary characters that I have ever encountered.
One last quote to leave you with, because the writing in this novel was so beautiful, I could feel it in my bones. Sadly, my favourite lines would reveal spoilers, so you’ll just have to read the book for yourself!
He never realized until now that ribs are nothing but bars made of bone, and the heart is just a scared prisoner pleading to get out.
And if you have the time, please listen to this amazing speech that J.R. Moehringer did at BEA this year. I listened to it three times in a span of eight hours. Oh, and read this book. And be prepared to want to start it all over again once you finish.
Sutton releases this Tuesday!