Even 40 years after her death, we are all still spellbound by the magic and mystery that is Marilyn Monroe. Today, movies and television shows are still being made about her story. I’ve been drawn to this historical novel by Joyce Carol Oates for some time, but have only now had an opportunity to pick it up.
Oates insist that this be viewed as a fiction, but it’s the kind of mesmerizing fiction where an author takes a fascinating subject and fleshes out the facts and speculations that have survived history. All of us want to know what was behind that famous pout. Remarkably, as she explores Marilyn’s early years, her years in foster care and as a wannabe actress and bonafide star, Oates portrays an intelligent but damaged Marilyn, who manages to be both naïve and worldly at the same time. The voice is authentic and emotionally real. Marilyn’s motivations are deftly explored with psychological realism. Her fragility is both sad and beautiful.
For me, the novel opens up the mystery of Monroe even further, and begs me to watch her films and try to divine whatever truths I can. But the reality here will always be shrouded by our images and the gossip surrounding Monroe. We can never know, but like Oates, we can imagine.