The Girl from the Papers
“The Girl from the Papers is a well-told story and well written.”
Inspired by the life of crime of infamous duo Bonnie and Clyde, The Girl from the Papers follows a young Texas girl, Beatrice—Bea—from one misadventure to another during the Depression years. Lured by her love for a man named Jack and the excitement that surrounds him, she is drawn into a string of thrilling robberies and, later, murder and mayhem. As a work of Christian fiction, Bea’s road inevitably leads to redemption, but it is a long and winding road, lined with hazards and pockmarked with potholes.
Religion gets a troublesome introduction in the story. Bea’s mother, throughout the book, seems willing to endure all manner of abuse against herself and her daughters just to have a man to provide for her. Her second husband is a hellfire and brimstone variety of Christian. He prays for his stepdaughter Bea, “Save her from the fires of hell that surely await her should she not repent of her wicked ways,” and enforces his views of piety with beatings and belittlement, nearly drowning the young girl in an animal watering trough to violently cleanse her of supposed insolence, vanity, and lack of respect. Bea is convinced that religion has nothing to offer and later experiences reinforce her conviction.
A life of poverty and want on the bad side of Dallas earns Bea a reputation as a good-time party girl as she seeks respite from the drudgery. Then she meets Jack. “With Jack, there wasn’t depression and fatigue and dirt,” Bea says. “With Jack, there was light. With Jack, there was hope. With Jack, there was fun.” It takes time, but Bea learns that Jack’s high living is financed by crime. He persuades her it is the only way for people in their situation to better themselves, to get their share, to get what they deserve.
Jack’s family does not condone, but somehow accepts, his chosen life. But his mother, whose religion mirrors that of Bea’s long-since-abandoned stepfather, shuns his choice of companion. “Our enemy the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour, and his temptations in this place are especially strong. I pray for my boys,” she petitions God while saying grace at Bea’s first meal with the family. “Save them from those that would lead them away from You, who would offer them nothing but temporary pleasure and an eternity in hell.”
But Jack’s sister-in-law, Alli, embraces Bea. Over the length of their relationship, she attempts to steer Bea toward religion. Her approach is different—one of love and teaching, caring and companionship. But Bea wavers, walking to the brink of repentance on a few occasions then backsliding when she yields to Jack’s magnetism and the exciting allure of lawlessness. The crime spree ends in gunfire, blood, and violence, and Bea finds herself imprisoned and with little to cling to, save the continuing influence of Alli and the salvation she encourages Bea to embrace.
All in all, The Girl from the Papers is a well-told story and well written. However, careful readers may find a number of anachronistic lapses troublesome. For example, the author writes of characters taking showers, which would be so unlikely as to be impossible in the time and place the story is set, when hot and cold running water were virtually unheard of. She provides medicine in capsules before medicines were encapsulated, and dresses prisoners in jumpsuits decades before the penal system did. A character uses the word “lifestyle,” a word that did not exist in that sense, and “issue” as a synonym for problem, which is a modern locution.
But the most glaring anachronisms are quotations from scripture. Bible passages quoted by characters or in narrative use the wording of the English Standard Version and the New International Version, both of which were many decades away from existence when the story is set. A more accurate, authentic use of scripture would seem in order, especially in a book published to appeal to readers with a religious bent who would be likely to notice such a lapse.