Blonde: A Novel

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9780060196073: Blonde: A Novel

"A lush-bodied girl in the prime of her physical beauty. In an ivory georgette crepe sundress with a halter top that gathers her breasts up in soft undulating folds of the fabric. She's standing with bare legs apart on a New York subway grating. Her blond head is thrown rapturously back as an updraft lifts her full, flaring skirt, exposing white cotton panties. White cotton! The ivory-crepe sundress is floating and filmy as magic. The dress is magic. Without the dress the girl would be female meat, raw and exposed. "

She was an all-American girl who became a legend of unparalleled stature. She inspired the adoration of millions, and her life has beguiled generations of fans and fellow artists. The story of Norma Jeane Baker better known by her studio name "Marilyn Monroe"--has been dissected for more than three decades, but never has it been captured in a narrative as breathtaking and transforming as Blonde.

In her most ambitious work to date, Joyce Carol Oates, one of America's most distinguished, writers, reimagines the inner, poetic, and spiritual life of Norma Jeane Baker--the child, the woman, the fated celebrity--and tells the story in Norma Jeane's own voice: startling, rich, and shattering. This most intimate portrait of Norma Jeane reveals a fragile, idiosyncratically gifted young woman who makes and remakes her identity, ever managing to survive against crushing odds to become the definition of stardom. Bit by bit, she tells her own epic story of how an emblematic American artist--perpetually conflicted and intensely driven--lost her way.

Drawing on biographical and historical sources, Joyce Carol Oates evokes the distinct consciousness of the woman and the unsparing reflection of the myth, writing as she has never written before ecstatic, completely absorbed, inhabited as if by the spirit of her extraordinary subject. Rich with psychological insight and disturbing irony, this mesmerizing narrative illumines Norma Jeane's lonely childhood, wrenching adolescence, and the creation of "Marilyn Monroe."

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.

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Review:

Penzler Pick, April 2000: It is surprising and shocking to realize that Joyce Carol Oates, one of the great writers living today, has never made The New York Times bestseller list (at least not in recent memory). Far less talented (and less famous) authors have made it while she, in all likelihood not caring much, has been shut out. That could easily change with her new novel, Blonde, which may be the masterpiece of a staggeringly distinguished career.

This 700-plus-page tome is based on the life of (you guessed it) Marilyn Monroe. In fictional form, with names changed (husband Joe DiMaggio is referred to as "The Ex-Athlete," Arthur Miller as "The Playwright," John F. Kennedy as "The President," for example), this may be the most accurate and compelling portrait of this beautiful and complex woman that one is ever likely to read.

But why discuss it on the mystery page, you might well be asking yourself. It was the author's intent to structure the book as a mystery, and of course she succeeds, as she seems to succeed at everything she attempts in the world of letters. And there is a murder, apparently arranged by a secret government bureau (FBI? CIA?), although that could be the victim's hallucination. Of course, it could also be both real and hallucinated (remember, even paranoids have enemies).

If you like biographies, you'll like Blonde. If you like novels, you'll like Blonde. If you like mysteries, you'll like Blonde. And if you fear that more than 700 pages by one of the greatest of living literary lions might be tough slogging, here's a little excerpt from the chapter titled "The President's Pimp:"

Sure he was a pimp.

But not just any pimp. Not him!

He was a pimp par excellence. A pimp nonpareil. A pimp sui generis. A pimp with a wardrobe, and a pimp with style. A pimp with a classy Brit accent. Posterity would honor him as the President's Pimp.

A man of pride and stature: the President's Pimp.

At Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs in March 1962 there was the President poking him in the ribs with a low whistle. "That blonde. That's Marilyn Monroe?"

He told the President yes it was. Monroe, a friend of his. Luscious, eh? But a little crazy.

Thoughtfully, the President asked, "Have I dated her yet?"

Nothing inaccessible about Joyce Carol Oates, especially in this most readable and relentlessly fascinating study of the lovely woman with whom the whole country was at least a little in love. --Otto Penzler

From the Back Cover:

In her most ambitious work to date, Joyce Carol Oates boldly reimagines the inner, poetic, and spiritual life of Norma Jeane Baker -- the child, the woman, the fated celebrity and idolized blonde the world came to know as Marilyn Monroe. In a voice startlingly intimate and rich, Norma Jeane tells her own story of an emblematic American artist -- intensely conflicted and driven -- who had lost her way. A powerful portrait of Hollywood's myth and an extraordinary woman's heartbreaking reality, Blonde is a sweeping epic that pays tribute to the elusive magic and devastation behind the creation of the great twentieth-century American star.

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