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.

Bonnie and Clyde: Poverty, second chances and true love

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Our book, Bonnie and Clyde: Dam Nation, explores deeper themes in a fun, thrilling, sexy read

Today is Clyde Barrow’s birthday.

Clyde was born on March 24, 1909, in Telico, Texas, the fifth of seven children in an impoverished farm family. In 1930, Clyde met Bonnie Parker, a nineteen year old waitress with much bigger dreams than the slums of West Dallas could deliver. Two years later, the notorious lovers and their gang embarked on a multi-state crime spree that ended in a hail of bullets in a police ambush in Sailes, Louisiana, May 23, 1934. 

Today is also the formal release date of the new book Kathleen and I wrote together, Bonnie and Clyde: Dam Nation (Pumpjack Press). It’s the second book in the series (book one, Bonnie and Clyde: Resurrection Road came out May 2017) that imagines what might have happened if the two outlaws were spared from their gruesome end and given (or, more accurately, forced) to work for the government to protect the greater good.

So why pick two notorious criminals and murderers (even though many believe Bonnie never pulled a trigger herself) to anchor the series? For three reasons.

We see the past as prologue.

The economic conditions that shaped Bonnie and Clyde—utter poverty and hopelessness and staggering wealth inequality—are back in style. Bonnie and Clyde were products of the incredible privation leading up to the Great Depression and years of hardships that followed. We picked them because their response to the soup lines and unemployment—a doomed life on the run taking whatever they wanted—struck a chord with their contemporaries, elevating them to folk hero status (at least until body count started to climb).

To be clear, we don’t consider poverty an excuse for crime or violence, but we do think it is a predictor and an enabler, and there are lessons to be learned. The economic landscape of today is eerily familiar, with wealth inequality at even higher levels than during the age of the robber barons, a pervasive sense of hopelessness, and anger and violence on the rise. In our books, Bonnie and Clyde put their unique skills to use protecting the only institution able to stand up to the corrupting power of concentrated wealth—the federal government.

We believe in second chances.

Nothing moves us as more than stories about redemption and atonement. It’s a truth that resonates through most major religions, literary fiction (Jean Valjean springs to mind) and movies (from The Shawshank Redemption to Groundhog Day). We see ourselves reflected in the imperfect—those who have failed yet try again anyway, much more readily than we see ourselves in those who haven’t made mistakes.

And we are more deeply inspired and filled with greater hope knowing if the flawed and inconsistent, the damaged and forgotten can turn things around, then so can we. The saintly and the perfect aren’t tested in the same way—the fallen have so much farther to go to overcome their own faults to contribute to a greater good. And no one fell farther, faster than Bonnie and Clyde. In our books, we give them a chance to do good and make amends, and they make the most of it (even if grudgingly at first).

We know love is transformative.

This is the sixth book Kathleen and I have written together (counting the four books in the Cowboy and the Vampire Collection), and our writing journey began with and is grounded in the transformative power of love. It’s what brought us together, almost drove us apart and keeps us focused—almost obsessively—on writing. And it’s a theme we return to in all of our books. It’s no surprise we were drawn to Bonnie and Clyde who, once they found each other, held on with more than a little desperation even as they set the world on fire around them.

Of course, there’s a big difference between exploring the alchemy of love through fiction and using that dark energy to fuel a crime spree. In our books, Bonnie and Clyde get the chance to live beyond their salacious and doomed relationship, growing even closer as the world around them shrinks.

Bonnie and Clyde, even 84 years later, have lessons to teach us. That poverty, if not addressed through policy intervention, can lead to violence. That people deserve second chances (it’s not widely known that Clyde’s life of crime began with a rental car issue, and police harassment likely ended a “straight” job after his first stint in a brutal prison). And that love, focused in positive directions, can change lives for the better.

Except for writers. And then, expect years of dysfunctional and antisocial behavior. 

Contributed by Clark Hays

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