I knew as much as most people did about Marilyn Monroe. Singing happy birthday to the president, marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, a lonely and abrupt death, the shot of her stood over the grate, the eyes and the hair and lips.
What Blonde does, is show you her soul and her mind. It showed me that she was a passionate, frangible talent who never truly had that recognized. That her image was exploited, as much by herself as by others and that it denied her the integrity that she deserved. That there is sometimes a trade between beauty and substance that undermines both. Joyce Carol Oates weaves in fact with fiction, she found the anguish within Norma Jeane Baker and made it real. She has a frankness of insight that is oftentimes painful to read through, but it’s the good kind, where you are made to feel something of substance and are educated in an unsentimental compassion.
Norma Jeane was brought alive to me, if this is a myth, then it is a good myth that allows Oates to talk about the expectations that women experience on all levels, let alone those of Hollywood actresses. If you were about to audition for a reality television show, and you read this beforehand, then you would not go in. I did not wonder what was real and what was not because it all held a delicious, poignancy that made me keep reading and engaged at every turn.
There are points in the book that were punches to the gut in terms of how they delivered savage insights and I felt the loss of her, even though she was, before an image, an icon much copied and quoted, but seldom understood. She would have been ninety this year had she lived, and I wonder if in some parallel universe, she’s surrounded by children and grandchildren, a grand lady of theatre and film and laughing to herself at what have been.
There is beauty in damage, a dangerous kind and this book talks about it with a refreshing candour that keeps you engaged with it at every turn. I came away, feeling that I was given an insight into another human being and that she was just as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.