Reviews for Blonde [electronic resource].

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

In the perverse manner all too typical of her singular career, Oates follows up one of her best novels'last year's plaintive Broke Heart Blues'with one of the worst she (or any other contemporary ``serious'' author, for that matter) has ever committed to paper. It's a bloated, humorless fictional speculation on the life and career of Marilyn Monroe that mixes together canned US and film history, fanzine gossip, and heavy-breathing fantasy. The story begins in early-1930s Hollywood, where young Norma Jeane [sic] Mortensen endures the manic-depressive attentions of her self-dramatizing mother Gladys, who'll spend most of her subsequent life in mental hospitals. The novel then becomes a rapid-fire tour of ``MM's'' troubled adolescence (as a foster child and precocious sexpot), early marriage (to an ardent young husband she breathlessly pet-names ``Daddy''), first success as a model (often nude), and very gradual conquest of Hollywood, and hopeful, doomed relationships with eminent figures coyly identified as the Ex-Athlete, the Playwright, and the President. Pretentious epigraphs from Freud, Stanislavsky, and Emily Dickinson, among others, sprinkled throughout the text, cannot disguise this really dreadful book's eccentric blend of sleaze and turgidity. Dime-store psychology and portentous symbolism abound: Norma Jeane's childhood dreams of the ``Dark prince'' Who Will Take Her Away From All This are emphatically linked to the father she never knew, and with Death, who comes for her when she's only 36. And the Oates's leaden prose (think Jackie Collins crossed with Thorstein Veblen) is all too frequently susceptible to such horrors as the following (whose author should burn forever in pulp-fiction hell for perpetrating it): ``Gamely the Blond Actress began to stroke the President's penis, as one might stroke a charming but unruly pet while its owner looked on proudly.'' Whatever Monroe's sins and limitations were, they didn't merit this contemptible insult to her memory. Oates should be ashamed of herself. (First printing of 100,000)


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Will our fascination with celebrities never cease? Over the past few years, there has been a proliferation of Marilyn Monroe biographies. Oates, at least, is not focused on the celebrity but on the frightened, orphaned Norma Jean, a figure perfectly in keeping with other lonely outsiders who populate her fiction. Writing in short sections that carry over extremely well to audio, she's able to achieve segues that add depth to the life being explored and fabricated. Details, images, thoughts, and feelings abound, so credible we forget such insights could not have been known to any biographer. And as to facts, Oates explains in an illuminating interview (included on tape six) that, as a fiction writer, she's able to simplify, combining "several" abortions into one, merging various characters. True, there is no suspense in this audiobook, narrated by Jayne Atkinson: none of the haunting stream-of-consciousness Oates so masterfully placed into Mary Jo Kopechne's mouth in her novella Black Water, but these tapes have much to offer. Considering the book is 768 pages, even die-hard Oates fans might appreciate this adeptly abridged audio version. Recommended, especially for larger collections.─Rochelle Ratner, formerly with"Soho Weekly News," New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Atkinson narrates Oates's fictional biography of Marilyn Monroe in an intense, slightly husky voice that immediately grabs and holds the listener's attention. Film actress Atkinson deftly switches back and forth between Oates's prose, a breathy Monroe (who "comments" periodically throughout the novel), Monroe's brassy mother, Gladys (who soon succumbs to mental illness), and a series of powerful, impatient men who callously exploit the vulnerable young actress. Her only false note is the dialogue of John F. Kennedy, which she reads without any attempt at the president's distinctive Massachusetts accent. Abridging Oates's epic is no small feat, but all the major events in Monroe's life remain in vivid and often heartbreaking detail. The audio also includes an exclusive interview with Oates, who talks about her impressions of Monroe as a person and as an icon, and discusses how she came to write the 700-plus- page novel, which she originally intended as a 175-page novella. Based on the HarperCollins/ Ecco hardcover (Forecasts, Feb. 14). (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Oates, for whom writing seems to be as involuntary and constant as breathing, liberates the real woman behind the mythological creature called Marilyn Monroe. In most hands, a fictional retelling of Monroe's tragic life seems utterly unnecessary, but Oates--long an avid observer of the rise and fall of celebrities and the public's morbid lust for vicarious violence--transforms a redundant exercise into an act of redemption. She conjures the soul of Norma Jeane, an illegitimate and abused child of Hollywood and a casualty of the cold war, with respect and empathy even as she draws on our pornographic obsession with her. Oates' riveting improvisation on Norma Jeane's devastating childhood--her mother becomes ill from working with toxic chemicals and is eventually institutionalized--is the first revelation in her ongoing dramatization of the eat-or-be-eaten brutality of the movie industry. Norma Jeane, already blossoming, ends up in an orphanage, where she begins to perfect her role as the world's supplicant. Had she grown into a plain young woman, she would, Oates suggests, have become a writer. But her wildly voluptuous body and the hunger and contempt it aroused in others drove her away from the life of the mind and into the treacherous and seductive beam of the camera's gaze. As Oates compulsively and compellingly examines every painful chapter in Monroe's desperate life, she boldly imagines her heroine's most intimate moments, projects flashbulb-harsh portraits of the many men who punished her, and reveals the poisonous blend of prurience, puritanism, and romanticism that characterizes our conflicting reactions to eroticism and fame. --Donna Seaman

Back