So Marilyn Monroe has been dead for more than 50 years, and so the uncomfortable attention in this novel is long past the subject’s personal pain. And while Joyce Carol Oates’s novel can feel a little ghoulish at times (for example, Arthur Miller was still alive when this came out–although he comes across perfectly nice in this book…not so much for Joe Dimaggio), she is not the first, the last, or the worst to do so. In fact, implicit in this novel is the awareness of the novel itself of the kind of invasive ghoulishness of how we look at Marilyn Monroe’s life. She’s a punchline a lot of the time, she’s a tool a lot of the time, and she’s an icon. But this novel seeks to create and narrate depth in her. Her whole persona is breathy and ditsy (even thought most of work suggests that she’s always in on the joke and perpetuating those myths about herself). But the novel suggest not only hidden depths, but calculated presentation of self that is comparable to the dyed hair and makeup and eyebrows we know about her and her career.
Also Robert Mitchum comes across really well here too.
And so the novel is long and spends a lot of times narrating her thoughts, her perspective, and the perspective of those around her. The novel spends a lot of time creating labels for the various men in her lives and putting distance between the reader and the characters. It’s a rewarding novel and better than it had any right to be.