Much more than the vivid portrayal of an iconic American star’s rise to fame, Blonde is a masterful recounting of the rich inner life of Norma Jeane Baker, the orphan fated to become one of the most celebrated actresses of her time, Marilyn Monroe. I’ve grown to love the seamless, floating narrative style of Joyce Carol Oates’ lyric prose, and I can honestly say this is the best work of hers I’ve read to date. (Although Mudwoman comes in a close second!)

What initially attracted me to reading Blonde, I can’t exactly say. I’m not a diehard Monroe fan, although I’ve watched a movie or two she starred in. I’d heard it was one of Joyce Carol Oates’ best books, and after this read, I can definitely get behind that! Recently I’ve been struggling with developing a closer third person point-of-view in my own writing, so maybe it was the autobiographical nature of the book that drew me in. (Though Oates has clearly stated the story is not meant to be biographical in the strictest sense.) 

I quickly discovered a voice within the pages that kept me enthralled until the very last one. We can immediately sympathize with Oates’ rendering of Norma Jeane, estranged from her mother as a young girl and shuttled through a string of squalid foster homes until a chance encounter with a less than savory, enterprising Marxist photographer landed her in the limelight of the Hollywood acting scene when she was nineteen years old.

You don’t have to be a Marilyn Monroe fan to appreciate the artistic mastery of this fictionalized accounting of her life, delivered skillfully through the intimate voice of the actress herself. The magic behind the myth is highlighted in all its glorious grit and glamour, a powerful and evocative tribute to the deeply conflicted and driven woman who emptied herself to leave a lasting impression on the silver screen for generations to come.

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