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Blonde: A Novel Hardcover – April 5, 2000

3.5 out of 5 stars 218 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Penzler Pick, April 2000: It is surprising and shocking to realize that Joyce Carol Oates, one of the great writers living today, has never made The New York Times bestseller list (at least not in recent memory). Far less talented (and less famous) authors have made it while she, in all likelihood not caring much, has been shut out. That could easily change with her new novel, Blonde, which may be the masterpiece of a staggeringly distinguished career.

This 700-plus-page tome is based on the life of (you guessed it) Marilyn Monroe. In fictional form, with names changed (husband Joe DiMaggio is referred to as "The Ex-Athlete," Arthur Miller as "The Playwright," John F. Kennedy as "The President," for example), this may be the most accurate and compelling portrait of this beautiful and complex woman that one is ever likely to read.

But why discuss it on the mystery page, you might well be asking yourself. It was the author's intent to structure the book as a mystery, and of course she succeeds, as she seems to succeed at everything she attempts in the world of letters. And there is a murder, apparently arranged by a secret government bureau (FBI? CIA?), although that could be the victim's hallucination. Of course, it could also be both real and hallucinated (remember, even paranoids have enemies).

If you like biographies, you'll like Blonde. If you like novels, you'll like Blonde. If you like mysteries, you'll like Blonde. And if you fear that more than 700 pages by one of the greatest of living literary lions might be tough slogging, here's a little excerpt from the chapter titled "The President's Pimp:"

Sure he was a pimp.

But not just any pimp. Not him!

He was a pimp par excellence. A pimp nonpareil. A pimp sui generis. A pimp with a wardrobe, and a pimp with style. A pimp with a classy Brit accent. Posterity would honor him as the President's Pimp.

A man of pride and stature: the President's Pimp.

At Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs in March 1962 there was the President poking him in the ribs with a low whistle. "That blonde. That's Marilyn Monroe?"

He told the President yes it was. Monroe, a friend of his. Luscious, eh? But a little crazy.

Thoughtfully, the President asked, "Have I dated her yet?"

Nothing inaccessible about Joyce Carol Oates, especially in this most readable and relentlessly fascinating study of the lovely woman with whom the whole country was at least a little in love. --Otto Penzler

From Publishers Weekly

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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1st edition (April 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060196076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060196073
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (218 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,123,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Karen Tims on September 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
I was never a Marilyn Monroe fan. I would never even watch a movie of hers. I didn't want to jump on what I thought was a bandwagon of people who loved her because she was so tragic. I was never interested in the dumb blonde sexpot thing. I've always preferred the more exotic Joan Crawford or Rita Hayworth. I knew Monroe's story but it never became personal for me. It never spoke to me.

Oates' words spoke to me. I have a love/hate relationship with her work. I like it but it often annoys me. I also said the first couple of pages had me thinking I'd never get through the book. Well, after that I never wanted to put it down. I was totally engrossed for all 738 pages. I often read several books at once. In this case, I wasn't interested in reading books that I had just gotten in from my favorite authors. There was just no comparison.

Oates breaks some "rules". She throws in dialogue imagined and real. Sometimes, you're not sure who the story teller is. You have to "listen" as it unfolds. Sometimes, the story is told as poetry. Sometimes a chapter is a page long. A great thing about this is... she doesn't do anything to the point where it's annoying. For example, sentences without verbs--which I always notice and it personally drives me nuts. She does it sometimes, but not on every page. She does it enough that it's needed and not jarring.

If Oates wants you to feel like the character-- frightened, sad, confused, numb, glad, she weaves her words so that the experience of reading enables that feeling. You don't just view it as an outsider, you are a participant.

I could relate to the character personally.
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Format: Paperback
I come to you PURE. A reader of Joyce Carol Oates, but never a reader of any biography pertaining to Marilyn Monroe.

I enjoy reading a book review that gets to the heart of the matter. The heart of Joyce Carol Oate's marvelous novel is Norma Jeane Baker and the wonderful illusion that she created for all to enjoy, Marilyn Monroe. If you're like me and never read a biography on the illustrious Marilyn Monroe, start with this novel. The author does an amazing job of making it appear factual and breathing life into both Norma Jeane and her good friend Marilyn.

JCO starts with a BANG! beginning when Norma Jeane was a little girl in the care of her grandmother, Della. Poor Norma Jeane is whisked away from Della by her mother, Gladys, then her life sort of goes to pieces. Gladys and Norma shared a few good times or at least that's how Norma Jeane tries to keep to the story so that she can survive her life but eventually Norma ends up in the orphanage and then at around age 12 or so, becomes a foster child of a pathetic couple, only then to find herself a child bride and then the novel really takes off! All that I've said is far condensed; JCO does a much better job of filling you in on the details, and there are many!

I was sad, fascinated and impressed by Norma Jeane's talents and I'm not talking about the gifts she was naturally blessed with, though she was quite blessed and certainly used it all to her advantage. What really stood out in the book was that Norma Jeane was intelligent, shrewd, witty, a genius in her own right, yet, she couldn't see it. She knew it lived inside of her but she didn't believe that other people knew it, so tormented was she.
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Format: Hardcover
Marilyn Monroe died when I was in my late teens. It has always intrigued me why her legend lives on and on in a world where beautiful blondes are as plentiful and ephemeral as butterflies. What was it about Marilyn Monroe that has inspired the books, the songs, the photographic retrospectives decades after she's been gone? Having just finished "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates, I think I know.
From her first to her last breath, the fictionalized life of Norma Jeane Baker exudes tragedy. Her childhood is brutal, puberty puts her at risk, her early marriage is a fiasco, her treatment by her agent, her photographer, and the studio bosses unpardonably exploitive. When she finally achieves fame, Norma Jeane is too fragile and broken to savor it. She becomes her insecurities. Even those who love her and wish her well (husband playwright Arthur Miller) can't save her. She can only bring them down in her self destructive nose dive. If there is any truth to her treatment by President John Kennedy, he was the most dispicable of all. Oates never uses the image of a candle in the wind made famous by Elton John, but the metaphor works. Norma Jeane, aka Marilyn Monroe, never ceases to be a fascinating case study. Towards the end the writing gets a little sloppy and the reader grows impatient for the author to get on with the end, which one knows will be horrible, and yet when it happens it will break your heart . You are sorry the book has ended because you can never get too much of the central character, her amazing life story and the stormy times in which she lived.
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