Friday, November 18, 2011

Catch Me if You Can (Novel Review)

A little while ago, I reviewed the musical staring Aaron Tveit, which recently closed on Broadway on September 4, 2011 (after 32 previews and 170 regular performances, one of which I went to) and will next year have a national tour. Today, I will review the actual novel by the actual Frank Abagnale Jr. This book, published in 1980, is, of course, titled Catch Me if You Can!

Writing Style
As I mentioned in my review of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games, I separate writing styles into 3 groups. The first is the older English (like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie) with its slower pace (for people who had lots of free time). This could be considered the hard reading group for most people, but it’s not that hard for me. The next group is the middle writers, whose styles are well developed and have lots of details (like Tom Clancy or Dan Brown). The last group is the easy writers, whose vocabulary is not as developed and thus are faster to read (at least for me).
Catch Me If You Can seems to fit well in the third group. This non-fiction story is entertaining but it is not loaded with lots of details like descriptions of the people or places. This story could be a great and easy read for anyone. It is not be hard to understand and it's not that challenging detail-wise, but that is not why this story is good. It is good, because it is entertaining and it is a true story.

The story
            If you read my review of the musical, then you know the basic story, but I’ll review it any way. To quote the back of the book, “Frank Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters and escape artists in history. During his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and copiloted a Pam Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks—all before he was twenty-one.” So needless to say, it’s a fun read.

The Differences between the Book and the Musical
            As to be expected, there are some differences between the book and the musical I saw. For example, in the musical a nurse is the love interest who he confesses about his real identity, but here in the book, it is a stewardess (though the nurse did appear in the story). who he confesses to. In addition, the whole being a lawyer thing is quite separate from his love interests (though there was a woman involved anyway) and is much more entertaining.
            One significant difference I noticed between the book and musical is the presence of FBI agent O’Riley. Right off the bat is the name of the agent. See, O’Riley is not the real name of the agent. At the time the book was published, the agent was still part of the agency, so Abagnale changed his name to O’Riley. Based on a M*A*S*H* reference during the time he was a doctor in the book, I would guess this name was taken from that great show, but that’s just an assumption on my part.  However, now that he has retired, the musical used his real name which is Carl Hanratty. In the musical, O’Riley is a major star. He’s the co-star of the show and produces a second perspective for the story which is slight one sided in this book. I am not sure how much of Carl’s performance was true, but I did note that in the spots where an FBI agent was present (who was not O’Riley) in the book, the musical placed Carl. I guess it makes sense and makes this more than just a one-man show. In the book, however, we don’t actually see O’Riley, though he is mentioned at last three times.

Who really is Frank Abagnale?
            When you read the book, you will see two images of the same man: one of a suave and debonair con man who masqueraded as a Pam Am pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a sociology teacher, an FBI agent, a bank guard an investor and so many others. The second image, however, is very different. It is the portrait of a man who is just skin and bones with fleas and feces in his uncut or shaved hair. How did this one man go from having his own crew of stewardesses (at one point in the story) to only having rats and insects to keep him company in a damp waste-infested dungeon? Well, I’m not going to tell you! I’m going to let you read it!

However, that being said, I think I’ll share something more. At the end of the book, there is an interview with the writer (as this edition of the book was released a few months before the movie adaptation came out) and I thought this question was significant and reverent to this section’s title:

This is actually a good book. I’m considering buying myself a copy so I could reread the book after I return the copy I’ve been using to the public library, if that says anything about if I like it or not. I would recommend this book to people who like adventure, thrillers and just a sense of humor. If you are looking for an entertaining easy read, this is the book for you!

I’ll review the movie soon!

Quote / Picture of Author
"A man's alter ego is nothing more than his favorite image of himself,"
--Frank Abagnale Jr.
(Catch Me If You Can, pg 1)

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