Joyce Carol Oates

by Loris Casadei
  • thursday, 8 september 2022




“Watched by all, seen by none”. A tempestuous journey into the life of Norma Jeane Baker – the legendary Marilyn Monroe – her loves, movies, and inner torment of a public person who had a c


Joyce Carol Oates is an American prolific author, poet, and playwright.
One of her favourite techniques is the investigation of the dark sides of an event or celebrity, a quasi-judicial inquiry. This is what happens in Blonde. She warns at the very beginning that her novel is a work of fiction, not a biography of Marilyn Monroe, although it is stated that “many of the characters portrayed here have some counterparts in [her] life and times”. To be fair, the novel demonstrates great historical accuracy, though surely some distortion, or rather a deliberate selection in the facts listed is apparent. I remember that right after she died, there was gossip spread far and away about a purported nude pool scene for the upcoming movie Something’s Got to Give and the most popular Italian weekly of the time, Catholic-oriented, hasted to point out that there was no nude scene, only a skimpy, flesh-tinted bathing suit. At the time, one couldn’t just throw a celebrity under the bus. Anyway. In the literary supplement of Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, there’s an interview with philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis; on the back of his portrait is a large-scale photograph of Marilyn.
Oates’ novel begins with Marilyn’s death: “Yes, I saw Death. I’d dreamt of Death the night before. Many nights before. I was not afraid.” There goes the conspiracy theory, which hurts the American conscience so badly. Two and a half pages are dedicated to Marilyn’s first period, and reflections of a candid girl in the 1950s, who is horrified when he overhears boys talking: “Look at the ass on that one, the little blonde!” Marilyn’s annus horribilis, 1947, is hinted to as notes in a hypothetical diary of hers. This does not surprise us, since Oates admitted she fell in love with fifteen-year-old Norma Jeane Baker after she saw her participating in a beauty pageant in California in 1941.
All in all, the novel is quite good in all its 750 pages, though be warned, this comes from a man who still loves Cinderella and Snow White.