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Flim-flam Man: A True Family History

Review

Flim-flam Man: A True Family History



Jennifer Vogel's dad was not like other dads. Sure he loved
Jennifer and her siblings, remembered birthdays, took them fishing
and on vacations. But John Vogel was a criminal, a conman and a
crook. In FLIM-FLAM MAN Jennifer Vogel shares the story of her
complicated relationship with her father --- his life of crime and
secrecy, his affection for her and his bloody death at the end of a
police chase almost a decade ago.

Estranged from her father for years when he died, Vogel's guilt and
sadness fuel this memoir. And so does her love for him and her
understanding of his outlaw ways. She tries to get closer to him by
examining his childhood (his father was absent and his mother
emotionally distant) and his other relationships. Still, this is
not a family history in the traditional sense. Vogel gives the
reader sketches, impressions of her family more so than details and
facts. The result is emotional, fascinating and quite
personal.

Vogel's parents divorced when she was a child. Her mother, left to
raise three children alone, was the disciplinarian. Her father's
mystique grew. The children spent summers with him, driving in his
fancy Cadillacs, spending time at his cabin, entertaining guests
and having fun. But over the years Vogel pieced together truths
about her father. Her mother told her early on that he was
delinquent in his child support. To Vogel, his gifts and
personality seemed to make up for this somehow. Yet how was she to
balance out his other crimes such as arson? And how was she to make
sense of the fact that her father had served prison time as a young
man for a violent crime? Or what about his justification to rob a
corporate retail chain for sociopolitical reasons by creating and
passing counterfeit money? Or the armed bank robberies? How could
his rap sheet sum up the creative and eccentric man she knew and
loved?

It is not just Vogel's father's faults that are laid bare. Jennifer
Vogel exposes herself as well. Despite his shortcomings, or perhaps
because of them, Vogel felt a propinquity with her father's life of
crime; she understood the need to subvert the system and had a
distrust of authority. She eventually channels those tendencies in
a way her father was never able to, and as she grew up she steered
clear of the choices and mistakes her father made.

Moving between childhood scenes and 1995, the year her father was
on the run from the FBI and Federal Marshals, Vogel tells the tale
of her family with honesty and even humor. At first glance this
appears to be a family unlike most, but she proves they share much
in common with families across America. FLIM-FLAM MAN is the
poignant story of a challenging father-daughter relationship. It is
also about the struggle for the American dream: in John Vogel there
was a not uncommon sense of alienation coupled with the not
uncommon sense of entitlement. Here we read about a man who makes
disastrous and dangerous choices his entire life, yet is also a
loving and charming father. It is easy to understand why Vogel is
so conflicted about him.

This is not exactly a book about forgiveness or recovery or
anything quite as simple as that. Jennifer Vogel's short book is
emotionally complicated but a joy to read. Both the joy and the
complication seems a fitting tribute to the man presented in its
pages: a loving and lovable father, and a career criminal.
FLIM-FLAM MAN is a moving, interesting and highly recommended
debut.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

Flim-flam Man: A True Family History
by Jennifer Vogel

  • Publication Date: February 3, 2004
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 0743217071
  • ISBN-13: 9780743217071