Joyce Carol Oates is a distinguished, award-winning author and critic. She has written over 20 previous books, including Black Water, On Boxing and Because it is Bitter and Because it is my Heart, now recognised as American classics. Recently, she has written Man Crazy (1998) and Broken Heart Blues (1999).
Dramatic, provocative and unsettlingly suggestive, Blonde is as much a bombshell as its protagonist, the legendary Marilyn Monroe. Writing in highly charged, impressionistic prose, Oates creates a striking and poignant portrait of the mythic star and the society that made and failed her. In a five-part narrative corresponding to the stages of Monroe's life, Oates renders the squalid circumstances of Norma Jeane's upbringing: the damage inflicted by a psychotic mother and the absence of an unknown (and perpetually yearned for) father, and the desolation of four years in an orphanage and betrayal in a foster home. She reviews the young Monroe's rocky road to stardom, involving sexual favors to studio chiefs who thought her sluttish, untalented and stupid, while they reaped millions from her movies; she conveys the essence of Monroe's three marriages and credibly establishes Monroe's insatiable need for security and love. To a remarkable extent, she captures Monroe's breathy voice and vulnerable stutter, and the almost schizoid personality that produced her mercurial behavior. (Emotionally volatile, fey, self-absorbed, and frightened, Monroe could also be tough, outspoken, vulgar--her notorious perfectionism a shield against the ridicule and failure that Oates claims she continually feared.) As Oates demonstrated early in her career in Them, and in many books since, she has an impressive ability to empathize with people in the underclass, and her nuanced portrait of "MM" carries psychological truth. Oates sees Monroe as doomed from the beginning by heredity and fate, and hurried to her death by a combination of cynical Hollywood exploitation, dependence on drugs and flawed choices of lovers and mates: JFK's cruel manipulation and shadowy intervention is the final blow to her fragile ego and her very existence. It is no surprise when, at the end, Oates subscribes to a controversial theory about Monroe's demise. Meanwhile, she draws a sharp-eyed picture of Hollywood during the 1940s and `50s; introduces a cast of movie-town personalities, from actors and agents to producers, directors and studio heads; creates intriguing character sketches of Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller; and conveys a nation's fascination with a cultural icon. The inevitable drawbacks in a book of this sort--deliberate omission of events, imaginative reconstruction of public and other events from Monroe's point of view--are problematical but not crucial. In an author's note, Oates declares that her novel "is not intended as a historic document." Yet she illuminates the source of her subject's long emotional torment as few factual biographies ever do. 100,000 first printing; major ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate; simultaneous Harper Audio; 5-city author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
The provocative and tragic life of Marilyn Monroe (nee Norma Jeane Baker) seems such a natural subject for Oates, who's explored the dark sides of human psyches so many times before in her work, that it's a wonder she hadn't already imbued this iconic story with her trademark doom and dread. In what the author describes as a "radically distilled `life' in the form of fiction," the reader will note the major touchpoints of Marilyn's upbringing, failed relationships, and career. The author has fleshed out scenarios and given words to orphanage directors, biological and foster parents, opportunistic agents and photographers, movie stars, friends, lovers, and the like to present an impressively researched and generally compelling "novel." However, it's hard to predict whether or not readers, no doubt familiar with much of this material, will go for this fictional presentation after the numerous biographies previously published. To Oates's credit, there are a few mysteries about Marilyn's life this reviewer wasn't familiar with (most notably the possible identity of her real father), and relating this saga mainly through Marilyn's eyes is original, even if she still essentially remains a cipher. Combine the sensational subject with the renowned author, and you have a book that most libraries will want, and most people will at least want to look at. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/99.]--Marc A. Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
'Nobody has ever caught Marilyn more brilliantly in words than Oates.' Sunday Times
'Oates has been fearless in taking on a subject that criss-crossed almost every important strand of mid twentieth century history...Apart from her, only Don Delillo, among today's American novelists, and no one at all among today's American women novelists, would be able to handle such a huge cast of imagined and real characters...A mighty - and a mesmerising - book.' Literary Review
'This novel deserves a wide audience. "Blonde" is what whole shelvesful of Monroe biographies should be but are not - a fabulous reinvention of the life of a fabulous reinvention, a mirror on our collective vanities and a cracking page turner to boot.' Evening Standard
'"Blonde" is an epic achievement, a masterpiece, a piece of art so shatteringly well-conceived and lavishly-wrought that at times it almost does not seem like a mere book...If this book doesn't catapult Joyce Carol Oates into British best sellerdom, nothing will.' Independent on Sunday
'Novelists such as John Updike, Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer slug it out for the title of the Great American Novelist. But maybe they're wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the Great American Novelist is a woman.' The Herald