It’s time for an admission. I don’t read non fiction, unless it is a textbook or some sort of biblical or Christian commentary, and I certainly don’t read biographies, at least, not on purpose. I just finished reading J.R. Moehringer’s “Sutton” and have to say I feel tricked (or maybe I just experienced an epiphany in terms of biographical literature). When I went searching the best seller lists for my next read, I saw no indication this book was a biography, and it really wasn’t until I was nearing the three hundred page mark the notion this might not be a purely fictional work even crossed my rather dull mind.
Willie Sutton, it turns out, was a real live American folk hero bank robber. It seems time and folk lore have added an aura of myth to his story; embellishing, adding and subtracting to the point that his own autobiography, published in 1976, seems to contain a good dose of fiction. Certainly the structure of Sutton relies on a fictional reporter and photographer to move the reader through Willie’s story, adding their own character and the culture of the late 1960’s to the tale, but even without this framework, the story is told in a way which prompted me to push through the italicized “present day” into the past, to the real story.
So, I was tricked, and happily so. I met someone new, who really lived, didn’t really change the world much, but was part of what came out of the struggles of immigrants to America. I likely won’t change my reading habits because of this book, biographies will remain low on the list of choices, but Willie the Actor (J.R. Moehringer) stole another one by disguising himself as something he wasn’t, and left me happy to be robbed.