September 2, 2014
A Heart of Gold
Posted on Jan 2, 2013
And this is, along with love, which we’ll talk about in a moment, the strongest of the many undercurrents in the novel. Time and again, Moehringer returns to the idea that since the founding of America, bankers have been a bit of a, ahem, problem. Perhaps more, he seems to say, than the honest, hardworking bank robber. He implies throughout the text that very little has changed since those early days.
There’s even a little swipe at the age of social media, which of course this generation thinks it invented. Sutton is asked why his crew, after robbing a bank, always went straight to the newsstand:
“We wanted to read our reviews. We liked being famous. Most people suffer from a fear that they’re not really here, that they’re invisible. Being famous solves that. You must be here, it says so in the newspaper.” Or on Twitter. Or Facebook.
So we have the story of Willie Sutton, a bit of meta-fiction, and a political book of ideas, but what of love? Well, that’s there too. For Moehringer’s Willie Sutton is a sucker for love, a hard man with a soft heart who was felled by a society girl named Bess Endner, whose eyes were “pools of blue and gold. He feels the earth tip toward the moon.” When asked whether he robbed banks because he had a vendetta against them, Sutton replies:
That moon Sutton feels the earth tip toward when he looks into Bess’ eyes, that “nocturnal predominance” as James Joyce calls it, becomes a recurring symbol of that which is inescapably alluring and utterly out of reach. When Sutton is first released from prison and the gaggle of reporters waiting for him asks how he feels, or whether he’ll ever rob another bank, he tells them to look up at the full moon:
“Three dozen reporters and two dozen civilians and one archcriminal look up at the night sky. The first time Sutton has seen the moon, face-to-face, in seventeen years—it takes his breath.”
In prison, inmates watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. Sutton is entranced and obsessed by this. It is, he says, the ultimate escape, because “the astronauts were in one-sixth gravity. In the joint you feel like gravity is six times stronger.”
When Sutton takes Bess to Coney Island to stay at the Half-Moon Hotel, he sees her walking toward him, looking “as if she rode the moon out of the sea.”
Indeed, references to the moon abound, and it is the moon that Moehringer returns to at the end of the novel, when The Reporter recalls Sutton talking about the moon, and how one of the astronauts had fallen hopelessly in love with it: “Imagine how fuckin lonely you have to be to fall in love with the moon?”
We don’t have to imagine. Moehringer has made us experience it.
Read “Sutton” as a political novel, a love story, a meta-fiction or a good, old-fashioned yarn—but read it. In fact, read it over and over; I suspect you’ll find something new and worthwhile every time.
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