Sunday, December 6, 2009

292. Blonde - Joyce Carol Oates

History: This book was written in 2000 and chronicles the life of Marilyn Monroe. In Blonde, Monroe's husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller are referred to as the Ex-athlete and the Playwright respectively, with their real names never mentioned. James Dougherty, Monroe's first husband, appears under the pseudonym Bucky Glazer. "R.F"- the commander of the Sharpshooter sent to eliminate Monroe. Many conspiracy theories have Robert F. Kennedy, United States Attorney General and brother of President John F. Kennedy, involved in Monroe's silencing, following her alleged affairs with both brothers. Only a relationship with the President is explored in the novel.
Plot: Norma Jean lived with her grandmother, and had a distant relationship with her mother. One of her first memories is her mother showing her a picture of her father. Her grandmother died, and she went to live with her mother. A few years later her mother had a mental collapse, trying to force Norma Jean into getting in the bath, and the child had to run naked to a neighbors house to escape. Soon after, she went into an orphanage, then to live with foster parents. She was married at age 16, and then her husband went to serve over seas. She worked in a factory, and was recognized by a photograph of her at work. She then went into modeling, and after having sex with a director, she went into acting. she got a contract with the studio, who changed her name, and she dyed her hair blonde.
Her acting career was up and down, but eventually her movies were a success. She played roles of the ditzy blank sexy goddess. In her personal life, she was not so successful. She was sleeping with Cass, Charlie Chaplin's son, with whom she was in love with, until she found him in bed with another man. Eventually, the three of them set up house together. The two men were junkies, somewhat using Marilyn for financial reasons, and when she became pregnant, she got an abortion.
Joe Dimaggio asked her out on a date, fell in love, and married her. He was controling and became physically abusive. She left him and moved back to Hollywood. Her life became a series of parties, friends, and men. She used prescription drugs. She was world famous, and sex symbol.
Then she met Norman Maillor, and they had a good relationship. She had a miscarriage though, and after that never recovered from grief, and the relationship disintegrated. Her career began to fail as she took on more serious roles, trying to move away from the sex symbol roles.
The President saw her, and asked his brother to arrange a date, and they had a rendevous in the boat house. She was invited to their estate, but he never showed up. And she was invited to sing Happy Birthday to him.
She died in her sleep soon after, a hit man (the presidents brother) snuck into her house and injected some sort of drug into her heart.
Review: 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.
Distorted and misunderstood, the muted voice of Norma Jeane and the grand legacy of Marilyn Monroe are also a looking glass into the shadow-world of Hollywood. While paying tribute to the elusive art of acting and moviemaking, Joyce Carol Oates depicts the chilling panorama of an industry that nourishes and devours the "pure products" of America.
Blonde offers astonishing—and often disturbing—portraits of the powerful men in Norma Jeane's life: the Ex-Athlete, the Playwright, the President, the Dark Prince.
With fresh insights into the heart of a celebrity culture hypnotized by its own myths, Blonde is a sweeping novel about the elusive magic of a woman, the lasting legacy of a star, and the heartbreak behind the creation of the most evocative icon of the twentieth century.
Opening Line: "This movie I've been seeing all my life, yet never to it's completion."
Closing Line: "Norma Jean, see. That man is your father."
Quotes: "Norma didn't have a clue who she was, and she had to fill this emptiness in her. Each time she went out, she had to invent her soul. Other people, we're just as empty; maybe in fact everybody's soul is empty, but Norma was the one to know it."
Rating: Good.

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