Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
(Ecco Press, 2000, 738 pages)
Blonde is Joyce Carol Oates’s fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe’s life. Even though I opened the book knowing that it was fiction, as I was reading I had to continually keep reminding myself that this wasn’t meant to be a biographical account (though Oates did make use of various biographical and historical sources to lend a sense of authenticity to the text). There’s no question that she did an amazing job drawing the reader into the life of Marilyn Monroe (aka Norma Jean Baker).
Blonde takes you through Marilyn’s life from early childhood to her untimely death in 1962. The amazing thing about the book is how you’re almost instantaneously drawn in, seeing life through Marilyn’s eyes. You’re in her head, experiencing the ups and downs of her life right along with her – forced to see her as more than just a glamorous and beautiful movie star. That being said, while this book will pull you in, it gets incredibly dark and depressing as you read. I would actually find myself feeling down after taking a break from the book. That shouldn’t deter anyone from picking it up – it’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it; especially to people intrigued by Marilyn Monroe and her life. I’ve read a biography or two in the past and now I find myself itching to read more about her and determine how much of Oates’s account was truly based on fact. I think Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters will be my next Marilyn book – the recently released (fall 2010) publication of a collection of Marilyn’s personal writings.
*If you’re interested in another “fictionalized biography” I’d recommend American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld – it’s meant to be loosely based on former First Lady, Laura Bush.