In Print : Starting with a bang
"Bonnie and Clyde, the Lives Behind the Legend," by Paul Schneider. Henry Holt and Company, New York, March 2009. 382 pages. $27.50.
If an amusement park spent millions on a Bonnie and Clyde adventure extravaganza, you would not get a more thrilling ride than might be had by reading West Tisbury resident Paul Schneider's latest book, "Bonnie and Clyde, the Lives Behind the Legend."
Clyde Barrow came of age during the Great Depression, if it can be said that he came of age at all - he was killed when he was 25 (Bonnie Parker, at 24).
This May marks the 75th anniversary of their deaths.
Among the street toughs in and around Dallas, Texas, Clyde worked his way up from petty theft to cars and eventually banks. His reputation grew, and as he managed to stay ahead of the law, his real life exploits came close to matching, and in some cases exceeding, that reputation.
Mr. Schneider ("The Adirondacks," "The Enduring Shore," and "Brutal Journey") conjures a very palatable desperation as well as the excitement of life on the run - a life with a limited future. His deft delivery will have the reader sweating along with Clyde and his gang, feeling the hunger, desolation, exhaustion, and the camaraderie among thieves.
The story is like a Greek tragedy. There are no surprise endings in traditional Greek tragedy, and no surprise endings in "Bonnie and Clyde." (Most of us have seen the 1967 movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.) But it is not the end, but the journey that makes this book worth reading.
Yes, the story includes the car chases, gun battles, and the extraordinary coincidences and bad luck that fed the legend. But there are also the personal battles and questions, Bonnie's poetry and unfailing sense of style and devotion, the thoughts of family, friends and adversaries, and the historic backdrop of Texas during the Depression.
Almost immediately, Mr. Schneider sets the stage and mood with his mastery of descriptive prose. He moves between a narrative that at times seems to mimic those 1930 movie narrators - part third person omniscient vernacular, and an unusual second person omniscient voice that somehow puts you in the center of all the activity.
Perhaps the most unusual and impressive aspect of this book is that every quoted personal conversation is comprised of words that were actually spoken or written about or by the people doing the talking. These quotes are referenced in 343 citations at the end of the book. Mr. Schneider's ability to rehash and synthesize massive quantities of data into an absorbing read is nothing short of masterful.
Paul Schneider has written another winner. It may be his best book yet.