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Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father's Counterfeit Life


Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father's Counterfeit Life

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: The True Story of My Father's Counterfeit Life
by Jennifer Vogel

  • Publication Date: September 5, 2005
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 074321708X
  • ISBN-13: 9780743217088