| Review of "Blonde" by Joyce Carol
are free to roam uncensored whatever territory they choose. But
Oates should be called into account for taking a few salient and
familiar events ("a selected symbolic few") from an actual
life (one proximate in living memory), and from the lives of others
still living (including Marlon Brando, Arthur Miller, and Marilyn's
first husband), and then attaching lurid contrivances in order to fit
them into evidence for her preconceived judgement upon that life, even
going so far as to assert that her subsequent distortion has been
spookily spoken--"at last"--by the subject of that
a trashy script about Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe reportedly said,
"I hope they don't do that to me." Reacting to proofs
of photographs by Bert Sterne, she drew X's with red ink over those
she disapproved of. They survive, shamelessly blown up,
published. The slashes seem inked with blood.
confronted with the choice of enhancing Norma Jeane, or degrading her,
as others have, I opted always for enhancing," Oates' statement
about her novel maintains. Yet evidence abounds that to fulfill
the allegorical requirements for "blonde" martyrdom, the
author needed more abuse and added her own. Is it conceivable,
otherwise, that Norma Jeane's "fingers encircling [Oates's]
wrist" would guide the author's hand to write passages included
in this novel? Ignoring Oates's silly arrogation of Norma
Jeane's identity, one may wonder how Marilyn, protective of her image,
would react to portions of this book. She would encounter the
following among many more linked to her name, some of which cannot be
included in this paper:
A scene in
which her first husband ("the Embalmer's Boy"), redolent of
embalming fluid, makes her up with cosmetics used on corpses--and
takes erotic "before" and "after" pictures of her.
to her soiling herself, her "hot scalding" urine, harsh
periods, demeaning sexual positions.
Remarks ascribed to a nameless chorus but which Oates invents:
"Look at you! Cow. Udders and c--- in everybody's
face." "Can't get enough of Polish sausage."
"You no more could predict what might emerge from that luscious
Marilyn mouth than you could guess, or estimate ..." etc.
A scene of
her being sodomized with a "Thing ... hard rubber," next to
an aviary of "dead stuffed birds."
account--necessarily paraphrased here--of her returning to "the
Playwright" in graphic squalid disarray from an earlier sexual
encounter, with "the stink of the other's cigarette smoke
(Camel's) in her matted hair...."
A list of
"Her lovers!"--including "Z, D, S, and T ... Lugosi ...
Karloff ... Roy Rogers and Trigger ... Lassie...."
incident during which "a Valentine" turns out to be toilet
paper with the word "WHORE" written in excrement.
during which she fellates an indifferent "President," after
which she's raped anonymously, urinates in the hall, is slapped by a
secret serviceman, bleeds, and has a "wad of toilet paper"
pressed to her wound.
cruel joke, again only suggested here, exchanged between "the
President" and "one of his buddies" (in the
presidential box!--as she "coos" "Happy Birthday"
to him from the stage), derisively comparing her singing with her
Oates's character pleads with a photographer--as Marilyn pled with her
last interviewer: "Don't make me into a joke ... I beg
indeed, Oates opted for "enhancing" Norma Jeane when another
choice would "degrade" her, and since those passages and
others more audacious (the worst is reserved for her death) are
Oates's fabrications, what alternatives occurred to her that would be
even more degrading?
constant expressions of disdain for her own male characters, Oates
repeatedly describes their penises: "angry as a fist,"
"engorged with urine, sizzling and steaming into the
toilet," a "tumescent sword," an "unruly
pet," "frantic, bobbing," "limp and spent ... like
an aged slug." Even the ringing of a telephone becomes:
"That jarring sound, that sound of mockery ... that sound of male
single understatement explaining her novel, Oates acknowledges the
"harshness of certain male portraits," but she hastens to
inform that "these are from the perspective of Norma Jeane."
(So! Norma Jeane made her do it!)
further bizarre distortion, Oates transforms two heterosexual men
(minor Hollywood actors remembered only because of their famous
fathers) into a pair of the most malicious gay men in memory.
Marilyn's brief affair with Charles Chaplin, Jr.--known for affairs
with women--ended when he found her with his brother. In Oates's
reversal, Marilyn finds Chaplin, Jr. in bed with Edward G. Robinson,
Jr., himself not known to be gay. To extend their villainy
beyond the grave, she has Chaplin, Jr. die before Marilyn. (He
outlived her by six years). He leaves behind a note that finally
reveals a vicious years-long charade the two devised involving
Marilyn's lost father. The note is carried to her by
"Death" mounted on a bicycle.
Is there a
touch of resentment in morose accounts of Marilyn's life that attempt
to undermine the fact that she accomplished what she set out to do, at
least early in her life--to become a quintessential figure of desire?
That is no mean attainment for a woman or a man. Is there a
trace of envy in compromising Marilyn's exultation of her beauty?
Is it possible to view her famous photographs and doubt that she
delighted, justifiably, in her glorious body and face, and in the
projection of her sensational sensuality?
tragic Marilyn Monroe became, however abused by men-(and she did
become tragic, and she was abused by men, and by the women who
ridiculed her), in turning her into a symbolic martyr, Oates demeans
Marilyn's genuine sensuality, strips her dignity, reduces her
strengths: surviving ruinous scandals, remaining financially
independent during marriages to dominating men, and not relying on
alimony afterwards; challenging the House Un-American Activities
Committee; founding her own production company; proving herself a
splendid actress, a highly intelligent woman.
Oates's many disclaimers, the emergent portrayal is one of scorn for
Marilyn Monroe. Without denying Oates's right to convey it, one
may, with equal authority, assert one's indignation.
one, finally, can diminish Norma Jeane's grand triumph, the creation
of the most astonishing figure in Hollywood history, the masterpiece
called Marilyn Monroe.
Los Angeles, California
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