A well-written and heart-wrenching fictionalised account on Marilyn Monroe, Blonde focuses on her life, starting from her bad childhood that eventually seals her fate. The book also focuses on her mental health, scarred by her messy upbringing and longing to meet her father, and interestingly Monroe is portrayed to be repulsed by her alter ego “the Blond Actress” – the real self is Norma Jean Baker/Mortenson who is still a child, a lost child, searching for companionship/love but at the same time, she wants to prove to everyone that she’s more than a “sex pot”, that she’s a serious actress – something that the real Monroe did too.
I liked that the book played with the theories surrounding Monroe’s death, using murder and drugs as the cause. Though I felt that the pieces of fiction were a stretch (especially Monroe having sexual relationship with so many men including some members of The Studio and JFK) and made me think “No, that didn’t happen, stop screwing her story up”, I appreciate the possibilities that could’ve happened to her, but was she that vain? Worrying about age? She was self-possessed and way too confident about her body to think that, based on her autobiography.
Anyway, Monroe, Norma Jeane is the only character who is complex (something I applaud Oates for) while the others are given initials or nicknames, e.g Arthur Miller is “the Playwright”, and are just…one-dimensional, perhaps to reflect Monroe’s tendency to be distracted by daydreaming or slightly detached from relationships. As you probably figured, much of her childhood influences her adult life to the point that she uses it to develop her roles but sometimes she confuses her characters with real life and the past. She also makes up little details about her early life to fit in, though some details like the forgotten actors and actresses who were close to her during childhood leave her listeners doubtful and cause them to stay away from her.
Norma tends to call her lovers “Daddy” which annoyed me and I wished that someone would snap at her, telling her to stop using that term (because it’s gross). Her childish behaviour also annoyed me but she does struggle to grow out of it. The problem is: she’s surrounded by idiots and manipulative assholes (excluding the Playwright, the only character who understands her and genuinely cares for her). It made me feel sorry for her despite her childish personality and I wished for an alternative, happier ending.