If you are reading this column, you should get to know North Idaho writer Jeff P. Jones. And if you are a fan of historical fiction, you must secure a copy of his debut novel “Love Give Us One Death: Bonnie and Clyde in the Last Days” (winner of the 2015 George Garrett Fiction Prize), in which Jones “added, subtracted and distorted facts” adroitly and creatively in his re-telling of Bonnie and Clyde’s last days.
Jones’ creation is a mixture of prose, verse, news announcements, depositions, gangster poetry, journal entries and even a cartoon. The poetry is exemplary. There are ballads and songs written by convicts, and the author uses anaphora (repetition of the first portion of every line) in the poem “there are signs : when” to provide a ratta-tat-tat effect similar to that of a firing Tommy Gun.
Then Jones changes forms to provide the element of surprise: “We never wanted to kill nobody. But during the time I was with them, five men got it. Four of them was lawmen shot in gun battles,” says W.D. Jones, a Barrow Gang member, in a six-part fragmented narrative.
A few pages later the author evokes pathos from the reader in a poignant mother-daughter scene: “The money Bonnie pressed into her (mother’s) palm from time to time brought little relief … ” — highlighting the Parker family’s impoverished life.
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But do not sympathize with Bonnie too long because seven pages later Clyde barks, “I am Clyde Barrow and this is Bonnie Parker, and if you mention our names again, we’ll drill you full of holes” — and so goes the roller-coaster ride of emotions and action throughout the book. And at the root of it all is the unbridled love between Bonnie and Clyde: “She laced her hand inside his, said, ‘You’re the only thing I ever want anymore. The best way is for us to stay close until the end.’”
Furthermore, the story is told from several points-of-view, including Bonnie’s posthumously: “Our autopsies were done in the back of Conger’s Furniture Store, where people in the swarm out front gouged bits from the tables and chairs to prove that they had been present at our demise.”
Bonnie also writes her own elegy: “The doggerel elegy written by Bonnie Parker had been given to a Dallas newspaper with the understanding that it would not be published before her death.”
There are very few writers who can write like Jones — in many voices and in various forms — but he choreographs his work like an award-winning producer, designating him as unique as the members of the Clyde Barrow Gang.
Wayne Catan has written book reviews for The New York Times, The Hemingway Review, Idaho Mountain Express and the Idaho Statesman. He teaches English literature at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.