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Notes from the Labyrinth
Unobtainium and Dragons' Bones
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ws: hamlet
Greetings!

This is the blog of Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison, a professional writer of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Sarah Monette is my real name; Katherine Addison is a pen name, intended to be transparent.

If you've found me here, odds are pretty good you're looking for something to read, so the following is--to the best of my knowledge--a complete list of everything I've written that's available online:

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If you know of anything I've missed, please leave a comment!
10th-Jun-2011 02:40 pm - UBC: Public Enemies
ws: hamlet
Burrough, Bryan. Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-1934. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.



This book covers events from the Kansas City Massacre (June 17, 1933) to the arrest of Alvin Karpis (June 1, 1935): the rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the downfalls of the Barkers and Alvin Karpis; Pretty Boy Floyd; Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker; John Dillinger; and Baby Face Nelson. And all the astounding clusterfucks that took place along the way. The book is both lively and informative, and Burrough does his best to give both sides of the story, discussing the FBI as much as the criminals.

He does, however, have biases. He likes Alvin Karpis and John Dillinger, is essentially uninterested in Pretty Boy Floyd, and is weirdly contemptuous of Barrow and Parker. (He always calls them "Bonnie and Clyde," whereas the other criminals get the respect of being called by their surnames (except as necessary to distinguish between Fred and Dock Barker). Burrough does not, for instance, call John Dillinger "John" or "Johnnie" in his exposition. And he condemns Barrow and Parker with a viciousness that no one else in the book gets:
Art [the 1967 movie] has now done for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow something they could never achieve in life: it has taken a shark-eyed multiple murderer and his deluded girlfriend and transformed them into sympathetic characters, imbuing them with a cuddly likeability they did not possess, and a cultural significance they do not deserve.
(Burrough 361)

Now, I'm not saying that Burrough is wrong about Barrow and Parker. But I don't see how they're any worse than Dillinger, Karpis, Floyd, or Nelson (especially Nelson, whom Burrough frankly describes as a psychopath). All of them left a trail of bodies behind them, even Dillinger, whom Burrough comes perilously close to valorizing. Burrough is contemptuous of Barrow because he never made it as a bank robber, but the thing this book makes clear is that all of these notorious criminal masterminds botched jobs, escaped through pure luck time and again, and in the end died cruelly pathetic deaths.

Overall, this is a very good book, and it does an excellent job of showing the astonishing confluence of bank robbers and G-men, each playing into the other's hands, in 1933 and 1934. You just have to be aware that Burrough is not impartial, because he won't tell you so himself.
4th-Jun-2011 02:18 pm - visual reference: Bonnie & Clyde
ws: hamlet
(Okay, yes, apparently I need a Bonnie-and-Clyde tag. Gibsland, Louisiana, is approximately where they died (unless it's Sailes), and that's the only point in their careers when you can really pin them down to a location.)


For further browsing, there's the Barrow Gang Collection at the Portal to Texas History. (This picture of the site of the Grapevine shootings is beyond fabulous.) Also, the FBI has put nearly 1,000 pages of material from their investigations online.
4th-Jun-2011 11:10 am - UBC: Bonnie and Clyde
ws: hamlet
Schneider, Paul. Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend. New York: John MacRae-Henry Holt and Co., 2009.



This is a very good biography with an affectation. I'll get to the affectation in a minute, but I want to state for the record that, really, this is a very good biography. Schneider uses primary sources, and he uses a lot of them. He extrapolates a little, but he doesn't theorize. He lets Bonnie and Clyde (and W. D. Jones and Blanche Barrow and Frank Hamer, prison guards and petty criminals and victims) speak in their own words, and he does a bang-up job of showing how Clyde Barrow became what he was, both the parts that he chose and the parts that he didn't. And Schneider writes very well.

However. As I said, this is a biography with an affectation. The affectation is that most (though not all, which makes it, if anything, worse) of the sections about Clyde are written in second person. (E.g., from a page chosen at random: "Two days after the killing of Howard Hall, Sheriff Reece puts out a wanted poster with your picture on it, offering two hundred dollars as a reward for your capture" (204).) Sometimes, this strategy is very effective, and I know why Schneider did it, because the last section of the book, after Clyde and Bonnie are dead, is a second person extrapolation of Clyde's reaction to his own death, ending:
Oh yeah, folks reach in and pull pieces of your clothes off, grab for souvenirs. One guy even gets his pocketknife out and is cutting at your ear. Even your stinking dead ear is famous now and the fellow wants it.

You would like to see him try that when you were alive. Ha! But there's nothing you can do about it now. And come to think of it, who cares? Hell, buddy, that doesn't even hurt, getting that ear cut off. Try chopping a toe off, or takin' the Texas bat on your backside with two fat trusties sitting on your head and feet. Try a half dozen bullets here and there over the years, pulling them out yourself or getting Bonnie to pull them. Try a whole arsenal all at once. Try hearing Bonnie scream like a panther in the seat next to you.

You don't need that old ear--go ahead and take it, friend. Take Bonnie's jewelry, too. Sure, take those guns, Captain Hamer, they might be worth something someday. You don't need any of it now. You and Bonnie are around the corner and out of sight.
(344-45)

And I can see why he wants to get there, why he thought this piece of stunt writing would be a good idea. (Writers are just as susceptible as anyone else to the magnetism of bad ideas.) And for the most part, he executes his bad idea quite well; there are places where it's intrusive and fake-sounding, but it does generate the illusion, by the end of the book, that we as readers have some idea of what it was like to be Clyde Barrow.

On the other hand, it's an illusion. We don't know any more about what it was like to be Clyde Barrow than we know about what it was like to be Bonnie Parker, and the effect of the stunt writing that I most deplore is that, by spotlighting Clyde, it shoves Bonnie back, making her a second-class citizen in Bonnie-and-Clyde. (Which fits with Schneider's belief that Clyde was the dominant partner, but is still . . . what's the adjective I want? Annoying? Disappointing?) And frankly, of the two of them, Bonnie is the one who's harder to understand. It's not hard to see how Clyde became what he was, to trace the steps from petty theft to bank robbery and murder and to see why, after a certain point, Clyde thought he didn't have any choice except to continue as he was. And Schneider does an excellent job of showing those steps. But he never really digs into the question of why Bonnie chose to follow Clyde. He leaves it at "love" and leaves Bonnie an enigma.

I think I would be less annoyed by this if he'd just called the book Clyde Barrow and not pretended it was about Bonnie-and-Clyde. But it does make me want a good biography of Bonnie Parker.
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