Rooting For The Villain, Until You Can’t.

Bonnie - A Novel

Another Bonnie and Clyde book? Clearly writers continue to be intrigued by the Depression era duo, publishers seem happy to put their books out, and readers keep buying them

Heck, I did.

Not that I’m qualified to quibble over historical details, but Christina Schwarz’ new Simon & Schuster hardcover Bonnie has obviously been carefully researched (the novel’s backmatter details some of it in fact) so I’ll leave it up to true crime and B&C experts to pick apart minutae. I wasn’t looking for a history lesson but only a good read, and Schwarz’ lean but still lyrical prose delivered on that. Bonnie is more literary fiction than an action-packed crime novel, and it’s inevitable that once done, the reader might feel a little depressed. But the doomed criminals were who they were, came to a well-deserved end, and it’d be foolish to look for something uplifting here.

For a lifelong city-dweller in the northern midwest, the rural south and southwest can almost seem like a foreign country, particularly when dialing back decades to the Depression and Dustbowl eras. But Schwarz (through that careful research and lyrical wordsmithing) manages to bring it to life and just a few chapters in, you’ll find yourself fully immersed in this time and place and almost – almost, mind you – going along with Bonnie Parker and her long series of incredibly bad choices.

The robbers/kidnappers/murderers have been thoroughly romanticized on screen with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch as well as numerous other literary retellings. You can root for the antihero. Maybe even find yurself cheering for the villain. Until you can’t, that is. Because these were very very bad people, no matter how we want to picture them or how we might try to understand what led them down the paths they chose. Schwarz may not wallow in the heists and gunplay, but it’s still grim stuff, and the myth may be more relatable than the reality, even when it’s a moving read.

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