I started reading Blonde, the fictionalized story of Marilyn Monroe by Joyce Carol Oates, after I saw that there’s going to be a Netflix adaptation dropping September 28th. I’m the kind of person who likes to try to quick read the book before I watch the movie. I saw that it was available on the Hoopla library app and downloaded it.
I was about halfway through before I noticed that the audiobook I was listening to is an abridged version. I was like “Damn, what’s up with that?” Abridged is like anathema in my house. Give me the original story, give me the original song, I don’t want edited, shortened versions.
Then I looked the book up online.
Now I understand why the audiobook’s abridged. The original book is 738 pages long. Seven hundred thirty eight pages. That’s just way more than I can handle in my life right now. So, abridged it is.
The next thing I thought was, “This abridged audiobook better have the threesome scene I read about in a Bustle article awhile back. If that scene’s not there Imma be pissed.”
The scene’s in there. Yasss!
Blonde has a sublime way of commenting on the misogyny of the movie industry and society, the double standard of gender and sexual politics, and the tightrope between “acceptable” and “improper” sexuality that female actresses were forced to walk. There are a couple examples of male costars being disconcerted or angry by Marilyn Monroe being a “scene stealer”. Like, how dare she take the spotlight when she was supposed to just be the little sexpot on the side, not the true star, the serious actor they pictured themselves to be. I began to appreciate how much I underestimated her based on the narrow box she was put in by the Hollywood machine and the limitations imposed on female actresses of the time.
The most intriguing aspect of the book for me was its exploration of the inner psychology of Marilyn Monroe through her acting process and motivation. How she needed acting as a reason to be and a way of dealing with pain and loss in her life. The book characterizes her dedication and work ethic. The ways in which, to the surprise of all those around her, she came up with bios for her characters and really thought about pieces of her life that could inform who she was portraying. The narrative also toys with the idea of where does the acting end and the actual person begin. Maybe they’re more inextricably linked than one cares to admit. On the other hand, fans and spectators tend to conveniently forget or ignore that the person and the persona are not the same, nor interchangeable.
I was a little thrown by the multiple and shifting viewpoints. My feeling is that Ms. Oates was using that as a way of further illustrating how the perception of Marilyn Monroe is a product of the opinions and stories of all those around her, particularly men.
Blonde piqued my curiosity about what was made up and what’s based on known facts. So now I want to go out and read more books about Marilyn Monroe. And, of course, check out the Netflix movie when it drops.
How about you? Are you planning to watch Blonde on Netflix?
I don’t happen to have a Netflix subscription, but I’m intrigued by your observation that creativity often cannot be separated from the creator’s life. What we put into our work can have echoes of what we experienced, even if not portrayed in a historically accurate fashion. I’m both impressed by the tidbit of how she made up bios for the characters she played and also horrified that people were surprised she could do this. More than anything, I think, that demonstrates the sexpot box she was put in. Anything requiring a brain was a surprise.
Yes, Louise! You put it very well. How exhausting it must have been to always have to prove herself and be equally discounted.