Love Give Us One Death: Bonnie and Clyde in the Last Days
This review was written by Tim Bardin and was originally published in the Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas.
Jeff P. Jones’ postmodern, historical novel recounts the last days of the notorious American outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The immediacy of the narrative and the intimacy of the language reveals Jones’ desire to draw as close as possible to the real Bonnie and Clyde. Part prose and part verse, the novel is teeming with fragments, witness statements, newspaper articles, photos, scripts, and even a cartoon, creating a delightfully chaotic mixture of narrative styles.
Throughout the novel Jones tackles the unique challenges confronting a writer of historical fiction. The author acknowledges in a critical afterward that history is flawed, and while he admits to eschewing a more traditional form of a primary research in developing the novel, Jones still grounds the narrative in historical details: “The best I can say is that this is my own error-riddled version of history, for, when it seemed necessary, I’ve added, subtracted, and distorted” (p. 225). The language is marvelous, evoking dialect and literary styles that immerse the reader in the speech of Dust Bowl America. The story is one of love, passion, and a desire for freedom in a culture that, ironically, frowns on unorthodox relationships or restricts personal freedoms, even to the point of oppression. Jones is a master storyteller, weaving characterization, historical setting, and tone into a colorful, if gritty, tapestry that is pure delight for a reader to examine. Locating his narrative in the Depression era surrounding “a larger narrative of exploitative greed, back-settler pride, abuse of policing powers, and the valorizing of the frontier outlaw,” allows Jones to “interpret the story in particularly American ways” (p. 231). The novel’s themes are especially timely in the larger national conversation about exploitation, the use of force and abuse of police powers, and the treatment of inmates in the American prison system.
Jones’ novel both humanizes Bonnie and Clyde—without glamorizing their violent, bloody, and short life—while simultaneously deepening the reader’s emotional connection to the infamous duo. This excellent book should be read by anyone with an interest in postmodern fiction or experimental narrative forms, the story of Bonnie and Clyde, or American outlaws in general.
Tim Bardin is an MA student at Sam Houston State University.