Review: Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde
When it comes to Bonnie and Clyde I will admit my initial knowledge before reading this book was very limited. I knew that they were a gun toting couple that had a brief but famous crime spree in America before the law eventually ambushed and killed them in the 1930s. Jeff Guinn’s book promised to set the record straight on previous depictions of this infamous couple and the result is a gripping story full of amazing events.
The book begins with Clyde’s origins, his birth in 1910 in the farming communities of East Texas and the onset of the Great Depression which impacted hard on agriculture and forced the Barrow family to move to Dallas where they took up residence in the west of the city, comprising of the slums. In his teens Clyde initially tried to work for an honest living but his hard upbringing and meagre wages from a local factory convinced him crime was the only way to obtain the sort of life he desired – one of smart suits and fancy cars. Also in Dallas was Bonnie Parker who had married at fifteen and soon never saw her husband again. She dreamed of a career in films or on the stage but from such humble origins this was unlikely ever to happen. The lives of Bonnie and Clyde were changed forever when they met at a party and their story began.
Having consulted with surviving members of the Barrow and Parker families as well as using a wide range of evidence, Jeff Guinn creates a thoroughly detailed account of Bonnie and Clyde’s lives. Such details as Clyde’s imprisonment in the infamous Eastham Prison Farm or “Bloody Ham” as it was known where he killed an inmate that had been raping him for months before removing some of his own toes with an axe to be transferred to a compound with lighter work duties were all hard-hitting moments. Clyde’s vow never to return to prison no matter what would prove to be a promise he stuck by until the end. Even more shocking were details of the horrific injuries Bonnie suffered in a car crash, the result of Clyde’s reckless driving, which left her struggling to walk for the rest of her life and is further evidence that her role in The Barrow gang was not as prominent as the media believed.
Other surprising elements of Bonnie and Clyde’s story for me were that they were often working with other criminals such as WD Jones, Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin and even Clyde’s older brother, Buck, who would pay for joining his sibling with his life. The couple even met with legendary crime figure, Pretty Boy Floyd, though he didn’t take them seriously nor did the other notorious bank robber of the time, John Dillinger. Their perception of Bonnie and Clyde as a bunch of immature kids did have some degree of truth to it. Jeff Guinn’s book delivers an unexpected reality to Bonnie and Clyde’s lives which was in stark contrast to the image of them projected in the newspapers. Both Bonnie and Clyde were considered to be always armed and robbing banks and stores together. This was based on an infamous picture of Bonnie discovered by police showing her holding a gun and seemingly smoking. Truth be told, Bonnie liked a drink but didn’t smoke nor did she fire a gun. She was always by Clyde’s side but the crimes committed by the couple were always at the behest of Clyde who conducted them alone or with other members of the gang while Bonnie waited in one of the many cars they stole. Clyde’s preferences were not for banks but small stores, again in contrast to what the media would write. The media’s portrayal of Bonnie and Clyde along with subsequent films and books would obscure the reality of the couple and propel Bonnie to the forefront of the American consciousness with Clyde considered the obedient lover responding to her schemes.
Bonnie and Clyde’s two-year crime spree is also reflected as one of frequent mistakes and it is probably only down to luck and Clyde’s exemplary driving out of tight spots that they weren’t killed or captured sooner. Bonnie and Clyde were always dressed smartly in their photos giving way to the belief that they always appeared that way but life on the road, sleeping in cars or camping in woods was more akin to the difficult path they chose for themselves. Eventually it all had to come to an end and sadly for Bonnie and Clyde only a posse, led by a famous ex-Texas ranger, and the betrayal of a family they trusted were the reasons they didn’t go on longer. Bonnie and Clyde’s deaths are teemed with controversy for they were said to have died shooting. The truth was neither was armed and they were never given the chance to surrender. Despite their criminal activity there was some poignancy to the last few months of Bonnie and Clyde’s lives. After Clyde’s brother Buck was killed the couple tried to see their families more often, each time risking capture whenever they returned to West Dallas. Bonnie and Clyde’s reign of crime seemed more born of necessity in the midst of the Great Depression rather than a compulsion for evil. Clyde himself is revealed to frequently be merciful, especially to hostages with all he captured being released and some with money to get them safely home, while he remained a man of his word even to the extent of busting men he despised out of jail.
Jeff Guinn’s account of Bonnie and Clyde was a real eye opener for me. I have never seen the 1967 film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway but know it could never convey the reality of this infamous couple. Though their actions were wrong and the law did its duty in stopping them there is something to admire in a couple that went through so much together and remained by each other’s side until the end. The only sadness in the aftermath of their deaths is that Bonnie’s mother ensured her daughter and Clyde were not buried side by side.
(Book source: reviewer’s own copy)
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