Blanche Caldwell Barrow, |
My Life with Bonnie & Clyde
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2004)
This book is a fascinating read.
My Life With Bonnie & Clyde will appeal to a far wider audience than those who love the exploits of gangsters and law enforcement. This is a social history of America in the 1930s seen through the eyes of someone who spent some time at the heart of the news.
Our vision of Bonnie and Clyde is probably taken from the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway movie of that name, but as any student of history or film will tell you that doesn't tell half of the story.
Blanche Caldwell Barrow was the wife of Clyde Barrow's brother Buck. They joined the infamous couple in their escapades and, of the four, Blanche is the only one to survive long enough to put her thoughts on paper.
But it was not written for publication. In fact, the introduction to the book reminds us of how it might never have seen the light of day. The memoir was written by Blanche while she was in prison. On her release, she lived a quiet and normal life, and only after her death did a friend find the testament.
There it could have ended but, thankfully for us, the memoir was handed on to John Neal Phillips, who had interviewed Blanche about her outlaw days.
The result is a wonderful picture -- not only of the outlaws in question, but the whole culture that grew up around them and many others. The Depression era is put in context through Phillips' fascinating notes and explanations, but it is the voice of Blanche Barrow that draws us into the period and the thoughts of the protagonists.
Magically, Blanche also had an interest in photography, and she left us a visual record of her "kinfolk" and fellow outlaws.
This book will fascinate readers with the inside knowledge supplemented by meticulous research. It gives us the best of both worlds, eyewitness testimony and expert appraisal.