four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
By: 
Jeff Guinn
user_rating: 
0

The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde

A-Go Down TogetherJeff Guinn, the author of several previous titles, is also the books editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The Topic: Almost everyone knows the story of Bonnie and Clyde—their 1930s romance, their crime sprees, their deaths—or at least some version of it, whether it’s the film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway or maybe the eerie vocal duet by Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. But there are plenty of unexplored aspects of the story. For example, Bonnie thought of herself as some kind of poet (the Gainsbourg song is based on one of her verses). Bonnie was also conscious of the Barrow gang’s image, asking members to please explain that despite an iconic photo with a cigar, she did not smoke. But the duo does not emerge from Guinn’s book as criminal masterminds; indeed, perhaps Guinn’s greatest contribution is reconnecting an overly romanticized story to the desperation of the Great Depression.
Simon & Schuster. 480 pages. $27. ISBN: 1416557067

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"How does one fill so many pages with the lives of two small-time robbers who murder a dozen people, then are themselves gunned down in their mid-20s? Details. … In the hands of a lesser writer, these piles of detail would be lifeless, but Guinn pulls them together and shapes them into a compelling narrative." Bryan Woolley

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Seventy-five years after the outlaws’ deaths, author Jeff Guinn delivers an intense but fascinating new look at Bonnie and Clyde that rubs the gloss from the mythos and replaces it with a patina of true grit. … Guinn succeeds marvelously in re-creating the spirit of the times, the desperation of unemployment and financial ruin." Jackie Loohauis-Bennett

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Fort Worth author and journalist Jeff Guinn dispels most of the romantic myths in an embracing biography of the Barrow Gang that draws us in like an old wanted poster. Guinn is a skillful enough writer to turn a well-researched book of nonfiction—he makes good use of two unpublished manuscripts (one by Cumie Barrow, Clyde’s mother, and one by Marie, his little sister)—into an adventure yarn." Steve Bennett

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Jeff Guinn relates Bonnie and Clyde’s heyday of robbery and killing, their remarkable flight from justice and their grisly ending, in such careful detail that you might wonder if he’s making it up. He isn’t. Go Down Together: the True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde is the product of remarkable research through letters, diaries, memoirs, police and FBI reports, and interviews with family members." Bob Simmons

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Jeff Guinn cuts through the sex and gunsmoke surrounding the gangster love story of Bonnie and Clyde, and he reveals a couple of kids from the wrong side of the river who were anything but the sharpest gangsters to roam the countryside. His gritty chronicle is a welcome corrective to the affectionate portrait of the couple played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Arthur Penn’s 1967 movie, Bonnie and Clyde, which told us much more about the rise of the Hollywood antihero than it did about the real-life criminals." J. Lynn Lunsford

Critical Summary

All those who read Guinn’s account of Bonnie and Clyde were impressed by the unprecedented level of detail he brings to the story. But a few seemed to think that all of Guinn’s data got in the way of the chase. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel admitted that the level of detail posed the book’s "only problem," while acknowledging that "the legend still stands under its own power." Indeed, reviewers were generally pleased by Guinn’s ability to add new layers to Bonnie and Clyde’s brief, hardscrabble lives and to shed new light on their impulses without weighing them down. Reviewers were particularly interested in the idea of the duo as heroes of the Great Depression, with obvious anxiety that that era might not seem so distant these days. Yes, reviewers are prone to provide enthusiastic reviews for a newspaper’s books editor; yet Go Down Together is still a strong book.