The fun thing about this book is that few of the individual subplots work and yet, Anna Godbersen creates such a vivid re-imagination of Marilyn Monroe as a person that I really didn’t care.
Monroe is often depicted—mostly by but not limited to men (looking at you, Joyce Carol Oates)—as a wide-eyed naifish mentally damaged sex doll. I have to imagine there is more to her life than going around speaking in innuendo and substance-induced rage but rarely have I seen this depicted. Blonde is the latest in turning the starlet into a caricature for the male gaze and writing said portrayal off as “nuanced.”
I also know Monroe is nothing like the sly, cunning super-spy depicted in this book but it’s fun to imagine how she saw through the whole act to get hers, even if it’s with the Soviet Union.
The thing that holds this book back is the story Godbersen decides to tell. She has a great premise but wastes it on a romance tale featuring JFK, who gets a nuanced portrait that he probably doesn’t deserve given how he treated women in real life. Their romance was boring but, to her credit, Godbersen imbues those scenes with life and that keeps the tale moving. The scenes with her handler are interesting enough, though I would’ve preferred more background to how the Soviets cultivated her as an asset. And the less said about the scenes with the only other POV character—a dour FBI agent—the better.
So yeah, this doesn’t go the directions I wanted it to but the writing is excellent. Let Marilyn live.