Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fiction

Article excerpt

Title: Blonde Author: Joyce Carol Oates Data: Ecco Press/HarperCollins, 738 pages, $27.50

Review by Mary Ann Horne

Was she real, or was she Marilyn?

That's the question Joyce Carol Oates poses in her new novel, Blonde, a voluminous examination of the entertainment icon.

It's a fair question, both for the novel and its subject. In an author's note, Oates describes her work as "a radically distilled 'life' in the form of fiction."

The themes in Blonde run close to those of Marilyn Monroe's short, glamorous, often unhappy life. The details, however, are a grab bag of myth, truth and fanciful supposition.

Going into the novel without some background will produce confusion and suspicion, since it's hard to know what is real and what is Oates' invention. And going into it without a controlled suspension of disbelief will deflate the thrill of such intimate details -- albeit fictional -- of Marilyn's inner workings.

Oates tries to give us an inner Marilyn as full and sensual as the screen presence we know from Some Like It Hot or The Misfits. The author attacks the problem with her usual stunning combination of nerve and skill, weaving life scenes, movie scenes, interior monologue and journal entries (almost all of them invented, even though the "historic Marilyn Monroe" did keep a journal).

The result is by turns absorbing, disturbing and oddly unsatisfying.

Oates spends a disproportionate amount of the book on the young "Norma Jeane Baker."

No one writes about mistreated or lonely children more compellingly than Oates, and she makes young Norma Jeane's formative years excruciating. Emotionally unstable Gladys Mortenson could never provide a good home for Norma Jeane, so her daughter bounced among an orphanage, relatives and foster homes. This is all based in fact, but Oates' version boils down the number of moves and mixes around some of the people who participated in Norma Jeane's upbringing. …

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