Why write an alt-history book about Bonnie and Clyde?
Kathleen and I just released our fifth book — Bonnie and Clyde: Resurrection Road — on the 83rd anniversary of their deaths. Well, their “alleged” deaths.
The real Bonnie and Clyde died on May 23, 1934. Bonnie Parker was 24 and Clyde Barrow was 25 — startling young — when they were gunned in a hail of bullets on a county road near Sailes, Louisiana in a vigilante ambush. Our book is an alternative history, a “what if” story that plucks the notorious couple out of harm’s way at the very last instant and gives them a chance to atone for their life of crime by trying to save democracy. (“Outlaws become patriots,” to quote Kirkus Reviews.)
Why rescue Bonnie and Clyde, America’s most infamous outlaws, and why now?
The first part is easy — people love outlaws. Jesse James is a fixture in the American psyche; broaden the scope a bit, and the legend of Robin Hood has an appeal which transcends geography. Desperadoes aren’t bound by the (often seemingly arbitrary) laws of the land or even the expectations of civilized (read: stifling) society, and they seem desperately free. Throw in a few acts of kindness amongst the crimes — giving some money to orphans of poor farmers — and the stage is set for the ultimate redemption story.
Even with our predilection to idolize bad guys and girls, there is something special about Bonnie and Clyde. For years, they stayed one step ahead of the “laws,” piling up exploits with style, pulling capers with panache and orchestrating daring escapes. And it didn’t hurt that there was a titillating, salacious undercurrent of illicit sex.
Of course, the media made them out to be bigger and flashier than they were, and they murdered people in cold blood and died in a pretty horrible fashion (again, allegedly; read the book). But time has dulled the reality and left only the sexy side of the story.
So now for the second part of the question, why now?
It’s because of the Great Depression, and what it says about today. Bonnie and Clyde stood up to (or lashed out at, depending on your viewpoint) the economic system that created them, the system that was ruining the country. They were the products of extreme poverty, of a brutal existence shaped by the horrors of the Great Depression and they had the perfect, if somewhat murderous, response: Blow it up. Tear it down. Be patient no more.
To quote the rock and roll maxim, they decided they’d rather burn out than fade away. So they grabbed their guns (Clyde was partial to the Browning Automatic Rifle) and stole a car and aimed their anger at the economic system that failed them, failed so many. Because they, like so many others, literally had nothing left to lose.
Interestingly, they also aimed their anger at the legal system that kept so many mired in indentured servitude. Clyde, literally, organized an attack on the prison where he had been incarcerated (for stealing chickens, and cars) and brutalized — along with suffering a rape, the everyday conditions were truly horrendous as they were forced to pick cotton and tend to other crops. It was so bad, he cut off two of his toes to escape it. (Prematurely, as it turned out; he was up for release.)
Bonnie and Clyde were born into the dusty shadow of the Great Depression, born hopeless and already destined to die forgotten.
Jobs were gone. Banks had failed. Farms were foreclosed. Hard-working men were forced to stand in soup lines. Families lived, and starved, in Hoovervilles. The unregulated greed of the wealthy elites crashed the system and ruined the country for almost everyone for an entire generation. And those same wealthy industrialists are the bad guys in Bonnie and Clyde: Resurrection Road.
So why now? Because we live in a world in which wealth inequality in the U.S. is currently EVEN higher than in the Gilded Age of robber barons, and Bonnie and Clyde seemed like the perfect anti-heroes to aim at a system that is failing so many and incarcerating so many more. Our new book is a proxy war for the future of this country fought 83 years ago by the unlikeliest of heroes.
Of course, it’s also a love story, and a thriller, and a book about second chances and the power each of us has to overcome and atone for our mistakes. On the 83rd anniversary of the (alleged) deaths of Bonnie and Clyde, we hope you’ll think about the power each of us has to influence those around us and how to use that power for a greater good.
And we hope you’ll check out our new book. It’s a lot of fun.
By Clark Hays