(Simon & Schuster, 466 pages, $27)
America first learned Bonnie Parker’s name in 1933, when a photo hit newswires showing the 22-year-old outlaw with a pistol in one hand and her lips puckering a fat cigar. But Bonnie knew well that she often fell short of her glamorous image. She was short and coarse-featured; Blanche Barrow was clearly the better-looking woman in the Barrow stickup gang. If Bonnie had anything going for her, it was that her lover, Clyde Barrow, believed in her. When he’d hold up a shop or bank, he would steal a typewriter so that as they drove on she could write her poetry in the backseat. At 23, she even wrote a poem predicting their demise. She and Clyde would “go down together,” she wrote. A year later, the poem’s vision came true.
You can’t help liking Bonnie and Clyde, even after journalist Jeff Guinn has stripped away all the “glamour and hype” that have attached to their legend, said Kathleen Krog in The Miami Herald. In Guinn’s detailed telling, the young Texas outlaws who inspired Warren Beatty’s legendary 1967 film weren’t beautiful, smart, or terribly noble. But the desperate Depression-era circumstances they lived in partially redeem them. Though Guinn “spends too much ink” describing Clyde Barrow’s rural origins, his book “takes off” after Clyde moves to a Dallas slum. It’s love at first sight when 20-year-old Clyde meets 19-year-old Bonnie, an out-of-work waitress. What’s surprising is that, before they went on their crime spree, Clyde spent most of the next two years on a hellish prison farm where he was repeatedly raped by a fellow inmate whom he eventually murdered. That experience made him reckless.
The couple’s crimes were nothing to admire, said J. Lynn Lunsford in The Wall Street Journal. Before a posse of lawmen gunned them down in an ambush on May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde made a habit of robbing shop owners “not much better off” than they were. The gang as a whole also killed nine officers. Guinn’s “clear-eyed” account acquits the couple of some of the gang’s worst transgressions but never romanticizes them, said Jackie Loohauis-Bennett in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He “rubs the gloss from the mythos and replaces it with a patina of true grit.”