Posts from Pumpjack Press authors and contributors about culture, books, economic and social justice topics, history and more, with the occasional poem and short story.

Elation and grief on the anniversary of the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde died on May 23, 1934. Bonnie Parker was 24 and Clyde Barrow was 25—startling young—when they were killed in a hail of bullets on a county road by a  vigilante ambush serving as judge, jury and executioner.

Eighty-three years later to the day after their deaths, Clark and I are publishing a new novel that conjures an alternative, fictional ending for their tragic lives.

Bonnie and Clyde never died. They weren’t in the bullet-riddled car. They survived. The lovers lived on to a ripe old age.

In this new novel, Bonnie and Clyde: Resurrection Road, the outlaws are recruited to work as covert agents in defense of American democracy and the working class. Their charge is to protect the “forgotten man” from capitalist excess and greed.

It is a charge that, had things gone slightly differently all those years ago, likely would have come naturally to them, given the circumstances of their short lives. 

As we wrote, we burrowed deep into the facts and tatters of the era and their lives, stitching together information from books, photographs, movies and original writings (Bonnie was a poet) to derive a sense of their personalities, characters, and their fierce love. And also to understand what turned them from largely ineffective outlaws to cold-blooded killers.

Bonnie and Clyde were born dirt poor. Schooling was inconsistent. As adolescents, they watched the economy crumble. Then the Great Depression took hold. There was no family money to stake young Bonnie or Clyde in a trade. Jobs were disappearing. 

Theirs was a world of soup kitchens, breadlines, foreclosed farms, families living in cars or under bridges, desperation and despair—an economy that had spectacularly failed. 

Yet, in the beginning, as teenagers, Bonnie and Clyde found work. Waitress. Gas jockey. Car repair. But after a brush or two with the law—petty theft, mostly—and a stint in prison for Clyde, things went from bad to worse. Their future looked bleak.

Finally, they made what economists call a rational decision. With equal parts intent and stumbling, they opted out of a failed, broken economic system and embarked on a life of crime. It was a decision that made sense in the context of their circumstances, on some level, given everything that was stacked against them. 

And with that action, they were catapulted into fame and legend. Why? What caused people to react so strongly to them?

We think it was because Bonnie and Clyde personified the wish—the courage—of many people in the working class of that era to escape life sentences of wage-based drudgery, impoverished and indentured servitude, and often premature death.

Today’s economic landscape has frightening parallels—albeit with modern twists—to the era of the Great Depression. Income inequality has reached similar levels. Higher, actually. Homelessness and poverty are rampant. Education and health care are out of reach for many. 

Today, ladders to the middle class, put into place after the Great Depression with the innovative protections of the New Deal designed to balance the benefits of capitalism, have narrowed, with the few rungs remaining being slowly chipped away.

Today, as it was in their era, the concentration of wealth at the top means that those holding the bags of dollars can influence regulations to favor the capital-based economic activities of the wealthy, with the counterbalancing power, the voice for the wage-based working class growing weaker and weaker as the years pass. 

Today, we need new heroes, like the proponents of the New Deal, heroes that fought to put into place new policies so that the benefits of capitalism were, to some degree, spread fairly across all people who, through their work, contribute to profits. 

But highlighting the parallels of the economic landscape of today and then was not part of our initial motivation to recast the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. We set out to write an exciting adventure—as we always do—a sexy political alt-history thriller mash-up, designed to entertain and amuse, a love story and a tale of atonement. But then there it was, impossible to ignore, because it was the setting of their lives, the context for their actions. 

As we wrote, we realized that under different circumstances, with a little more luck, the instinct to buck a rigged economic system might have turned out differently for Bonnie and Clyde. Maybe it would not have ended tragically for them, and for so many others they hurt along the way. Perhaps their celebrity could have been channeled into a rallying cry for the working class. 

Maybe there's something there for all of us to learn from.

After living with their shadows for so long, today, on the day of the publication of Bonnie and Clyde: Resurrection Road, and the anniversary of their death, there’s elation and grief.

Elation because our book is published. We are excited to be finished and anxiously await your reviews and feedback.

But unexpectedly, there is also grief, or perhaps it’s more accurate to call it focused reflection. We got to know Bonnie and Clyde, and on this day marking their death, mourn how things turned out for them.

Today, on the 83rd anniversary of their death we drink a toast—gin of course—to Bonnie and Clyde, and a life that could have been.

But now, at least, one version of an alternate ending exists, albeit fictional.