By: Joyce Carol Oates
I read this book ages ago probably around the time it was first published and remember loving it. I was determined to give it a reread after I heard the upcoming Ana de Armas movie is based on Blonde.
This time around and once again in a bit of a Marilyn phase I’m much more torn.
First off Joyce Carol Oates admits from the beginning this is a fictionalized account of Marilyn’s thoughts, her interactions, etc. Basically her life.
My first problem with the book was the writing. Too much number one though Oates is a genius and has some amazing points and turns of phrase it could have been edited out but more so the descriptions of sex and Marilyn herself. One thing that really sticks out to me was the multiple times her mouth looked like a cunt was used.
Also endless descriptions of her breasts and ass. That she smelled. Sex with Marilyn. Disappointing sex with Marilyn.
A part of me couldn’t help think that a male author would have been destroyed for a couple of pages of this and since I’ve seen this book described as feminist fiction in many places it takes the harshest, coldest view of Marilyn/ Norma. Also taking the view that she slept with everyone on her way to the top, she was a constant victim and no one really liked her save to use her.
Now I’m certainly not going to argue that Marilyn/Norma wasn’t a victim of her time and condition and of the studio system and yes men overall. To be fair Joyce also presents her as someone who was well-read and smart and as a raw magnetic actress that though she may have driven everyone she worked with nuts had the chance to be brilliant and often was.
Which made me wonder the career someone with Marilyn’s magnetism could have had today when she didn’t have to consign herself to the studio system and didn’t feel the need to survive by playing the roles (both professionally and personally) that men assigned her. Would she have been someone like Margot Robbie/Reese Witherspoon picking and producing her own projects? Hell she seemed to be heading that way and fighting for that even then.
I also couldn’t help think that with how hard Oates leans on Marilyn’s deteroriating mental health and the lack of help for her save the studio Doctors drugging her up. Would she have made it today with access to real help or would she not have been able to beat her demons a la Amy Winehouse? Oates seems to lean into the no way would she have made it but again Blonde is fiction and I’ve always felt from what I read about her life in actuality that had she real help and a support system she could have.
Blonde also skips any mention of How to Marry a Millionaire one of my favorite Marilyn movies and I got annoyed with so many obvious people never being named, the Ex-Athlete, the Playwright, C, V, Z etc. And the drive to have a baby in Blonde puts Yennifer in The Witcher to absolute shame.
And maybe that’s the problem with a book like Blonde or any fictionalized stories of the icons we love. (I’m currently loving the Great but I know people much more versed in Russian history and the personalities that can’t look past the inaccuracies and presentation.) Like I know Norma Jean got lost in Marilyn by the end. I know she was victimized and I know she was deeply troubled with no support but I can’t accept Oates version anymore.
I hope the upcoming movie concentrates more on the work/fame/professional aspect of it and goes from there.
Recommend: Eh. 50-50. On Marilyn I’d say no but if you’re looking for a Joyce Carol Oates to read that’s accessible I’d say yes. And I possibly should have known my thoughts on this book would change because the JCO books I read after this I pretty much hated so I think it was the idea of Marilyn that drew me anyway.