"Blond Norma Jeane spoke in exclamations to hide her growing anxiety! Was she being watched? By hidden eyes? Behind the restless klieg lights scanning the crowd? At times, raked by the light? V's handsome face appeared bleached out, a fine-wrinkled parchment mask. His eyes were just sockets. What was the purpose in being here? A sweat droplet, coarsened by talcum powder, inched downward between Norma Jeane's big beautiful breasts in the snug red dress. Always there is a script. But not always known to you."
The life of Marilyn Monroe is pretty well-stoked territory, if you ask me. The blonde goddess icon with the silversweet smile and figure that drove the world wild is brought back to you courtesy of that remarkably prolific author of the American novel. Joyce Carol Oates' BLONDE is a tour-de-force that attempts to take us inside the head of the actress who suffered the slings and arrows of Hollywood life in full view of the postwar public who alternately adored and despised her.
This treatment, a novelistic approach to the celebrity biography, takes us inside the pretty head of the great star and spends its first hundred pages laying out the reality of life with a crazy mother, living close to the poverty level --- immediately, we feel for this girl. Granted, anybody who has read any of the many other tomes on Monroe's life will find this familiar territory. However, the introspective aspect of this inner monologue going on inside the girl's head, the honesty of what Oates contemplates were Monroe's feelings about her lovers, husbands, friends and associates, makes BLONDE something we haven't exactly read before. It is like the new BEOWULF, a more contemporary telling of an old story.
Monroe's life is the stuff of American legend and, as she has done with the Kennedys and serial killers, Oates mines this territory with great confidence and aplomb. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would be a silly book. But Oates understands the importance of the confessional element of the book and how it fits into our therapy-honesty-obsessed culture. Although long, the book is completely compelling --- but what else do you expect from the ripe mind of our most hardworking novelist? BLONDE is a very contemporary book about the ageless story of a starlet who was martyred by the town that created her in order to make money. How much more American can you make a story?
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011