My framed, original Marilyn calendar has been glaring at me from my den wall ever since I finished Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde.
When I look at it now, I feel as if I was there when it was shot. I’m not sure if I was the camera, the photographer or the desperate, naked girl- doomed and luminous and ashamed of the soles of her feet. Whomever I was, I was so close to the action that I could smell the dirty fifty dollar bill that the blonde was paid for the job. And now the calendar itself, formerly one of my most treasured objects, seems like an odd piece of taxidermy.
Blonde is Oates’ fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe. Written in five parts and traveling a somewhat circuitous route from Marilyn’s awful childhood to her worse death, the gorgeous and grisly prose is comprised of voices channeled from a host of spirits, some famous, some not. Oates assembles her Marilyn collage from a constantly shifting collection of perspectives and moments. The most entrancing voice in the book is Marilyn’s, breathless and heartbreaking and almost audible. However, the perspective always shifts back to an omniscient narrator, who has already seen the film through to the end and beyond. The presence of this narrator reminds us, lest we become too hopeful, that Marilyn’s end was there from her beginning.
Not only is Blonde a success in its searing and constant poetry (over 700 pages worth), it’s also a triumph of humanism and feminism, in spite of its ghoulish finale. It is a profound feminist statement to take a woman who was owned by all and cared for by no one, who was the ultimate sex object to a public that both adored her and tore her to pieces, and give voice to her soul.