FLIM-FLAM MAN by Jennifer Vogel
Kirkus Star


A True Family History
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Heartbreaking, hard-boiled memoir of the author’s late father, a liar and criminal she loved deeply.

Vogel’s masterful account of their fraught relationship begins with her father’s 1995 funeral, a poor affair in Minneapolis following a police chase that ended with John Vogel shooting himself. He had left Jennifer, her mother, and siblings years earlier in order to pursue his own mercurial path. She grew up poor in Minnesota and Iowa, moving from place to place, often just ahead of the bill collector, wondering where John was. Over the years, he ran a real-estate company, opened a burger joint, probably committed arson, almost murdered somebody for money, robbed banks, and printed nearly 20 million counterfeit dollars. But he could always show up at Jennifer’s doorstep with a smile and a gift and win everybody over with his improbable charm. Behind the smile was the desperation of a man who wanted nothing more than a normal family and a normal life but couldn’t manage the strains of such an existence. So John contented himself by living in the margins, always making the surprise visit, and never fulfilling promises. “Sometimes he tried too hard. Faint panic lurked behind these gay efforts as Dad weighed each individual moment to determine whether he’d won us or lost us.” Jennifer bounced from her mother’s house to living with her father in Seattle to bumming around with West Coast hippies. She then returned to Minnesota, where she ended up as an investigative reporter at City Pages, the Minneapolis alternative weekly. It was a good job for her, providing a useful outlet for the suspicion of cops and all authority bred in her hardscrabble family. Vogel’s memoir benefits from her hard-nosed prose. This account, which could have been limp with sentimentality, skirts the easy route and presents a clear, though hardly unemotional, view of a damaged, complicated man and the loyal, angry, loving daughter he left behind.

Will haunt readers for days.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-1707-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2003