American culture tends to celebrate outlaws. Many of our greatest folk heroes, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Zorro, fall under this category. America has always prided itself on being a country founded by rebels and nonconformists and lived vicariously through those who were willing to buck the system. One of the best examples of this was the rogue’s gallery of colorful celebrity criminals who terrorized and fascinated the American public during the Great Depression. The first half of the 1930s provided the perfect conditions for these nefarious characters to rise to stardom: poor economic conditions meant that crime was one of the few options for a person looking to get ahead and the banks were seen as the source of woe for the common man therefore robbing a bank was seen as sticking it to the man. From Robin Hood to John Dillinger, dashing thieves and their exploits always make for an exciting story, especially when romance is in the mix. Every Robin Hood needs his Maid Marion.
Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde tells the story of the Depression era outlaw couple, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker; two dirt poor kids for the slums of West Dallas who shot and drove their way to the fame they so craved. I usually do not like non fiction; it usually feels like a dry list of facts which are hard to keep track off, but in Go Down Together, Jeff Guinn makes a historical biography read like a well paced and page turning novel. One of this book’s strong suits is that it is extremely well written.
Guinn deconstructs the romantic legend which surrounds Bonnie and Clyde but his subjects appear all the more interesting and sympathetic. He paints the couple as victims of circumstances and of their own mistakes as much as everything else. We, the reader, feel pity for their wasted lives as much as we deplore their criminal activities. These were two people born with few choices: either a life drudgery or a few years of excitement and getting back at the system which kept people like them down. They chose the later.
Far from the manipulative vamp of legendy, Bonnie Park appears as a tragic figure, deluded by love and bound by a strange sort of loyalty. There is particularly sad anecdote from the end of her life where Bonnie, who longed to have children but may have had gynecological problems which prevented her from conceiving, told the pregnant sister-in-law of one of their gang members a fairy story that she and Clyde were also going to have a baby.
Guinn gives his subjects a strong pathos and his taut prose makes the book a delight to read.