by Joyce Carol Oates


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One of America’s most acclaimed novelists boldly re-imagines one of America’s most enduring icons in Blonde—the National Book Award-nominated bestseller by Joyce Carol Oates. The legend of Marilyn Monroe—aka Norma Jeane Baker—comes provocatively alive in this powerful tale of Hollywood myth and heartbreaking reality. Marilyn Monroe lives—reborn to tell her untold history; her story of a star created to shine brightest in the Hollywood firmament before her fall to earth. Blonde is a dazzling fictional portrait of the intricate inner life of the idolized and desired movie star as only the inimitable Joyce Carol Oates could paint it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061774355
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/15/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 738
Sales rank: 199,148
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.21(d)

About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been several times nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including the national bestsellers We Were the Mulvaneys, Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Falls, which won the 2005 Prix Femina. Her most recent novel is A Book of American Martyrs. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.


Princeton, New Jersey

Date of Birth:

June 16, 1938

Place of Birth:

Lockport, New York


B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Read an Excerpt

The Child
1932 - 1938

The Kiss

This movie I've been seeing all my life, yet never to its completion.

Almost she might say This movie is my life!

Her mother first took her when she was two or three years old. Her earliest memory, so exciting! Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. This was years before she'd been able to comprehend even the rudiments of the movie story, yet she was enthralled by the movement, the ceaseless rippling fluid movement, on the great screen above her. Not yet capable of thinking This was the very universe upon which are projected uncountable unnameable forms of life. How many times in her lost childhood and girlhood she would return with yearning to this movie, recognizing it at once despite the variety of its titles, its many actors. For always there was the Fair Princess. And always the Dark Prince. A complication of events brought them together and tore them apart and brought them together again and again tore them apart until, as the movie neared its end and the movie music soared, they were about to be brought together in a fierce embrace.

Yet not always happily. You couldn't predict. For sometimes one knelt beside the deathbed of the other and heralded death with a kiss. Even if he (or she) survived the death of the beloved, you knew the meaning of life was over.

For there is no meaning to life apart from the movie story.
And there is no movie story apart from the darkened movie theater.

But how vexing, never to see the end of the movie!

For always something went wrong: there was a commotion in the theater and the lights came up; afire alarm (but no fire? or was there a fire? once, she was sure she smelled smoke) sounded loudly and everyone was asked to leave, or she was herself late for an appointment and had to leave, or maybe she fell asleep in her seat and missed the ending and woke dazed as the lights came up and strangers around her rose to leave.

Over, it's over? But bow can it be over?

Yet as an adult woman she continued to seek out the movie. Slipping into theaters in obscure districts of the city or in cities unknown to her. Insomniac, she might buy a ticket for a midnight show. She might buy a ticket for the first show of the day, in the late morning. She wasn't fleeing her own life (though her life had grown baffling to her, as adult life does to those who live it) but instead easing into a parenthesis within that life, stopping time as a child might arrest the movement of a clock's hands: by force. Entering the darkened theater (which sometimes smelled of stale popcorn, the hair lotion of strangers, disinfectant), excited as a young girl looking up eagerly to see on the screen yet again Oh, another time! one more time! the beautiful blond woman who seems never to age, encased in flesh like any woman and yet graceful as no ordinary woman could be, a powerful radiance shining not only in her luminous eyes but in her very skin. For my, skin is my soul. There is no soul otherwise. You see in me the promise of human joy. She who slips into the theater, choosing a seat in a row, near the screen, gives herself unquestioningly up to the movie that's both familiar and unfamiliar as a recurring dream imperfectly recalled. The costumes of the actors, the hairstyles, even the faces and voices of the movie people change with the years, and she can remember, not clearly but in fragments, her own lost emotions, the loneliness of her childhood only partly assuaged by the looming screen. Another world to live in. Where? There was a day, an hour, when she realized that the Fair Princess, who is so beautiful because she is so beautiful and because she is the Fair Princess, is doomed to seek, in others' eyes, confirmation of her own being. For we are not who we are told we are, if we are not told. Are we?

Adult unease and gathering terror.

The movie story is complicated and confusing, though familiar or almost familiar. Perhaps it's carelessly spliced together. Perhaps it's meant to tease. Perhaps there are flashbacks amid present time. Or flash-forwards! Closeups of the Fair Princess seem too intimate. We want to stay on the outsides of others, not be drawn inside. If I could say, There! that's me! That woman, that thing on the screen, that's who I am. But she can't see ahead to the ending. Never has she seen the final scene, never the concluding credits rolling past. In these, beyond the final movie kiss, is the key to the movie's mystery, she knows. As the body's organs, removed in an autopsy, are the key to the life's mystery.

But there will be a time maybe this very evening when, slightly out of breath, she settles into a worn, soiled plush seat in the second row of an old theater in a derelict district of the city, the floor curving beneath her feet like the earth's curve and sticky against the soles of her expensive shoes; and the audience is scattered, mostly solitary individuals; and she's relieved that, in her disguise (dark glasses, an attractive wig, a raincoat) no one will recognize her and no one from her life knows she's here, or could guess where she might be. This time I will see it through to the end. This time! Why? She has no idea. And in fact she's expected elsewhere, she's hours late, possibly a car was scheduled to take her to the airport, unless she's days late, weeks late; for she's become, as an adult, defiant of time. For what is time but others' expectations of us? That game we can refuse to play. So too, she's noticed, the Fair Princess is confused by time. Confused by the movie story. You take your cues from other people.

Table of Contents

Prologue 3 August 1962
Special Delivery3
The Child 1932-1938
The Kiss9
The Bath13
City of Sand34
Aunt Jess and Uncle Clive64
The Lost One71
The Gift Givers76
The Orphan80
The Curse87
The Girl 1942-1947
The Shark99
"Time to Get Married"101
The Embalmer's Boy136
Little Wife144
Pinup 1945185
For Hire190
Daughter and Mother195
The Woman 1949-1953
The Dark Prince221
"Miss Golden Dreams" 1949223
The Lover237
The Audition238
The Birth244
"Angela" 1950246
The Broken Altar271
The Transaction285
Nell 1952291
The Death of Rumpelstiltskin303
The Rescue310
That Night 321
Rose 1953323
The Gemini337
The Vision355
"Marilyn" 1953-1958
The Magi372
"Can't Get Enough of Polish Sausage"374
The Ex-Athlete: The Sighting376
The Cypresses379
Where Do You Go When You Disappear?392
The Ex-Athlete and the Blond Actress: The Date394
"Für Elise"403
The Scream. The Song409
The Ex-Athlete and the Blond Actress: The Proposal413
After the Wedding: A Montage433
The American Goddess of Love on the Subway Grating New
York City 1954472
"My Beautiful Lost Daughter"475
After the Divorce477
The Drowned Woman488
The Playwright and the Blond Actress: The Seduction493
The Emissary530
"Dancing in the Dark"538
The Mystery. The Obscenity543
Cherie 1956544
The (American) Showgirl 1957563
The Kingdom by the Sea571
The Farewell606
The Afterlife 1959-1962
In Sympathy611
Sugar Kane 1959613
Rat Beauty634
The Collected Works of Marilyn Monroe639
The Sharpshooter641
Roslyn 1961645
Club Zuma670
Divorce (Retake)672
My House. My Journey681
The President's Pimp685
The Prince and the Beggar Maid688
The Beggar Maid in Love692
The President and the Blond Actress: The Rendezvous699
Whitey Stories711
"Happy Birthday Mr. President"717
Special Delivery 3 August 1962723
"We Are All Gone Into the World of Light"727

Reading Group Guide

A lush-bodied girl in the prime of her physical beauty. In an ivory georgette crepe sundress with a halter top that gathers her breasts up in soft undulating folds of fabric. She's standing bare legs apart on a New York subway grating, her blond head is thrown rapturously back as an updraft lifts her full, flaring skirt, exposing white cotton panties. White cotton! The ivory-crepe sundress is floating and filmy as magic. The dress is magic. Without the dress the girl would be female meat, raw and exposed.
-- From Blonde
In her Author's Note, Joyce Carol Oates explains that Blonde is "a radically distilled 'life' in the form of fiction," not a biography of Norma Jean Baker, a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe. In fact, Blonde is perhaps Joyce Carol Oates' most ambitious novel.

Opening the book with Norma Jean's early years, Joyce Carol Oates draws a vivid portrait of a child's painful relationship with her mentally ill mother, Gladys, and her longing for a missing father. Oates also chillingly foreshadows, and at the same time makes comprehensible, the tragedy about to unfold. In one instance, star-struck Gladys, showing her young daughter the homes of Hollywood celebrities, comments about Valentino: "He had no talent for acting at all. He had no talent for life. But he was photogenic, and he died at the right time. Remember, Norma Jean -- die at the right time."

Then, Norma Jean, vulnerable and haunted by demons, grows into a wildly voluptuous woman. She succeeds as a pin-up, becomes Marilyn Monroe, gets her big break in Niagara, and begins her liaisons with the powerful men who desire and abuse her. Oates deftlyreveals the fragile, gifted actress behind the icon. Yet while acknowledging the art of acting, Oates blasts the cold, destructive beast called Hollywood, and she draws scathing, unforgiving portraits of the famous men in Norma Jean's life, from the ex-athlete who beats her to the President who uses her and tosses her aside.

Monumental in its detail and scope, luminescent in its prose, Blonde examines the interior life of a woman, the culture that made her into an icon, and the forces that killed her. Related by a narrator on the brink of extinction, this multi-layered work sweeps the reader along on a tidal wave of emotion to an inevitable end . . . but an end where only Norma Jean dies. Marilyn Monroe and all her glittering movie personas live on.

Questions for Discussion

  • "For always there was the Fair Princess. For always the Dark Prince," writes Joyce Carol Oates on the first page of the chapter entitled "The Kiss." Who is Norma Jean's Dark Prince? Her true love? Her father? Death? Do you think that romance fiction and movies have led women to hope for a prince to fulfill their dreams? If so, what might be the consequences of expecting that . . . and what were they for Norma Jean?

  • Joyce Carol Oates didn't give names to some characters, such as the Ex-Athlete and the Playwright. Why? Who are some of the other unnamed characters? Especially, who is the Sharpshooter? Do you think that his role in Marilyn's death is metaphorical . . . or is Joyce Carol Oates joining those who suggest that Marilyn Monroe was murdered?

  • Norma Jean as Marilyn Monroe has been called a mythic character -- or perhaps more accurately a cultural icon. What attributes made her a symbol? Are those qualities still idolized today?

  • Was Norma Jean promiscuous or a nymphomaniac, as some people charged? What would you say about her sexual experiences? Can you build a case that what she nearly always experienced was rape, not consensual sex?

  • Can you speculate why the author found this woman so compelling? What do you think makes Norma Jean/Marilyn Monroe such a fertile subject for fiction and nonfiction, film and print, even decades after her death?

  • Interviews

    Joyce Carol Oates, Well-Organized Woman
    From the May-June 2001 issue of Book magazine.

    Although Joyce Carol Oates enjoys the occasional pay-per-view boxing match, the sixty-two-year-old author doesn't watch a lot of TV. In fact, before it was announced that Oates's 1996 novel We Were the Mulvaneys was the first of Oprah's Book Club™ picks of 2001, she had never even seen the program. With her schedule, there's not much time for channel surfing. Oates spends her days, and often nights, composing novels, poetry, nonfiction and short-story collections -- she has about seventy books to her name. She also writes plays, essays, and book reviews, edits anthologies and Ontario Review, which she and her husband founded in 1974, and teaches creative writing at Princeton University.

    We Were the Mulvaneys has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since its golden seal of approval. This is the first time Oates has reached Number One on the New York Times bestseller list, even though she's been churning out books at an extraordinary pace since winning the National Book Award for her novel them in 1970. But if her work has not sailed to the top of the charts, most of it has been critically acclaimed.

    "She's a phenomenon," says poet Daniel Halpern, her editor at Ecco Press. "It makes a lot of people nervous, especially other writers, that she produces so much. But what should make them nervous is not the quantity but the quality of the work that comes out. She amazes me, that book after book is of such a high level."

    How could anyone be this productive, particularly considering that she writes everything, novels included, in longhand first before transferring words to type? Oates says she doesn't feel that she is -- she's just well organized.

    "My days begin early, and end late," says Oates, who lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband, Raymond Smith, and two cats. She says she is always thinking of her work, no matter what she's doing. In particular, the story ideas really flow while running, walking, and bicycling. "At such times the imagination floats free, and one can contemplate one's work with an almost magical detachment."

    Magically detached or not, Oates still manages to have a rich social life. She attends countless campus events, like dance and theater, travels, and seeks out ethnic restaurants. "She's very sociable," says her close friend, feminist scholar and Princeton professor Elaine Showalter, who marvels at her friend's ability to squeeze in the time to entertain. "She throws several large parties a year and smaller dinner parties, and she goes out to a lot of parties," adds Greg Johnson, author of 1998's Invisible Writer: A Biography of Joyce Carol Oates. "I think it's just that she's a very scheduled and disciplined person whose life is very orderly in the way that most of our lives are not."

    While Showalter says that her friend has a wicked sense of humor, Oates exudes a consummate professional's calm, cool demeanor. When she picked up the phone last January and found Oprah Winfrey on the other end, Oates recalls, she wasn't ruffled. "I'm not that emotional," Oates says in her book-filled Princeton office, a movie poster of 1996's Foxfire looming above her head (one of the only movies made from her books). Only the slightest smile betrays her detachment.

    Looking at Oates's oeuvre, it's surprising that Winfrey didn't call earlier. In many of her books, Oates has examined how violence can decimate domesticity, particularly in women's lives, a subject Winfrey has been keen on in her selections. From Oates's classic 1966 short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" to 2001's Faithless: Tales of Transgression, she has exposed with sickening realism the danger that can erupt in everyday situations. In 1996's We Were the Mulvaneys, for example, an idyllic family in upstate New York (where Oates grew up) falls apart after their only daughter and sister is raped after a school dance. "I am a chronicler of the American experience," Oates says. "We have been historically a nation prone to violence, and it would be unreal to ignore this fact. What intrigues me is the response to violence: its aftermath in the private lives of women and children in particular."

    While Oates may rival other famously prolific authors like Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel in productivity, her narratives are constantly evolving and refuse to gel to any mold. Her characters range anywhere from young schoolgirls and housewives to boxers and rapists to kittens. "She reinvents herself three or four times a year as a writer," Halpern says. "She was a born writer, so she's always had a sense of merit in how to tell a story and draw characters that were different from each other and came alive on the page." He says that the novel Blonde, Oates's 737-page ode to Marilyn Monroe that was a 2000 National Book Award finalist, proves her mastery as a storyteller and reveals her growth as a writer. "The structure of Blonde I don't think she could've written twenty years ago," he says.

    The next novel, Middle Age: A Romance, due out in October, takes yet another spin through American existence, but may reflect a kinder, gentler Oates. She suggests that these days she's more idealistic and romantic about writing, and perhaps even about life, than she was decades ago. "Why this is," she says, "I don't know."

    She does know that the new novel will be a humorous and loving examination of the lasting friendships of a group of middle-aged men and women. "It's a much more upbeat and positive sort of narrative than people identify with her," Halpern says. "Nothing terrible happens to any of the characters." Well, except for the primary character's drowning at the beginning of the book, he admits, and another character's fatal mauling by his wife's dogs. "Otherwise, it's a happy ending." (Kristin Kloberdanz)

    Customer Reviews

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    Blonde 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Marilyn became a legend because of her beauty and sex appeal. But the real girl-woman couldn't compete with herself. She never found true peace and happiness. Always it was her body and looks she perceived as her only asset, although there is evidence that she was a very intelligent woman. Locked within herself, with a lack of self esteem she was always on a collision course with herself which ultimately led to her untimely death. Joyce Carol Oates writes this book so powerfully you think you are actually living Marilyn's life.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was a totally absorbing, riveting book. Never had much interest in Marilyn Monroe before, but I sure do now! The author, I presume, loosely based the narrative on actual facts of the star's life, and I want to believe that many of the details--although enhanced--are grounded in fact. (A check on her biography confirms that many of the events brought out in the book are true.) Norma (aka Marilyn) is revealed as a flawed, but totally human, compassionate, sensitive woman. I was shocked at the sadness of her life but glad I got to know this heretofore stereotyped image of the screen star. As always, Joyce Carol Oates delivered. This will rank among my favorites, along with "They Were the Mulvaneys."
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I had high hopes for this book; I like Joyce Carol Oates, and the reviews for Blonde were outstanding. Instead, I found myself reading pages and pages of the description of 'Norma Jeane's' first period that sounded like it came straight out of Stephen King's 'Carrie.' Boring, been there done that--the shock of the blood, how men would now be able to sniff her out, blah blah blah. There was also nothing new in the descriptions of life in the orphanage, life in foster homes. Wondering why everyone made such a fuss over this snoozer.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Not up to Oats' speed. Seemed like typical trashy sensationalism.
    Natalie220 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This book really showed you how Marilyn must have been in her days. She talks about her childhood years as a foster child. The story talks of her all her marriages and shows how mentally unstable she was. A good read.
    xine2009 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Powerful and enthralling fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe's life and death--very very sad. I'm reading some bios. of her to try to figure out what's true--factually. But this version is true in the way that great art is true. Once again, Oates amazes me.
    labwriter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The story of this book is compelling; the narrative is compulsively readable. However, this is a NOVEL. What parts are true? What parts are made up in Oates's head? Does it matter? It does to me. I don't understand the fictionalizing of a real person's life. I think it's wrong. If a biographer gets something wrong or has a skewed agenda, then it can be argued in a review or another biography can be written. But this this is "fiction"--so where do you go to "fix" Oates's vision of this woman's real life? I got about halfway through this book and gave up on it.
    BALE on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Blonde, is a sensitive interpretation of Norma Jean Mortenson¿s (Marilyn Monroe) inner-self as it was shaped and influenced by her life experiences. This portrayal, by Joyce Carol Oates, is intended to show Hollywood¿s iconic star as she was ¿a real person affected by dysfunctional life experiences that started at birth and ended with her premature death, at 36. Her outer mystic is peeled away to expose a spiritual life that yearned for what everyone deserves, unconditional love and acceptance. This makes Norma Jean¿s life all the more tragic. She was not a dumb blond, but a self-educated and motivated individual who sought for, but never discovered, who she was.
    deborahk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I found this book to be shockingly good. Only as a fictionalized biography, could Oates have gotten under the skin of Norma Jean and the people in her life the way she did. I want to go back and see all of her movies again, read more about her life and after an interval of needed rest from the sadness of this book, read Norman Mailer's biography of Monroe. Thank you Joyce Carol Oates for writing this book.
    marck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Certainly a wonderful mix of research and creative thought, but I was tremendously disappointed with the final section of the book -- especially the way Oates chose to handle Monroe's death. My first experience reading Oates.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Mesmerizing. Gives a voice to Monroe that she likely never had.
    ajWA More than 1 year ago
    Joyce Carol Oates is one hell of a writer, so she was not daunted by the idea of tackling the life of Marilyn Monroe. She lays it all out on the page, being a bit coy with actual names but anyone can tell what or whom she is referring to. Oates gets behind (or underneath) the facade of this enigmatic movie star, and leaves the reader with a feeling of understanding, empathy, and pity for Marilyn. Marilyn's childhood and desperate clawing to the top of filmdom are described in detail, and her marriages (with DiMaggio and Arthur Miller)make sense, for once. The addictions to pills and the behavioral quirks of her late career are also sympathetically explained.
    gisela521 More than 1 year ago
    Excellent service, highly recomended
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Susan88 More than 1 year ago
    Joyce is an amazing writer, she turns her novels and everything else she writes into an unforgettable piece of work. Blonde is her personal version of the woman who came to be known as Marilyn Monroe. This book is much more than the superficial tid-bits that the gossip column produces, it reaches into the depths of who she really was and what were some of the events that made Marilyn the kind of woman she was. From childhood to failed relationships and fame this book has a little of everything, you will soon be feeling that it's actually true and not a work of fiction. Although a bit of a lengthy book, it is well worth the effort. Once you get started it will be hard to put this book down, so go ahead get in a guilty pleasure pick up this book- believe me it's better than the tabloid magazines everyone is drawn to at the check out lanes!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I could not put this book down! I have always loved Joyce Carol Oates but was slightly wary of reading an entire novel of hers as opposed to the short stories that I am used to. Once I began this novel about 'Marilyn,' however, I could not stop! Oates takes you into the world of 'Marilyn' in such a way that, when you do manage to put the book down, your mind is racing just like Norma's does. You become completly engrossed in the life of the woman that became 'Marilyn Monroe.' I loved this book and suggest that everyone with a love for this famous and infamous actress read it.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed this book. It was very well written and you come away feelign like you really knew Norma Jeane, and how she wasn't all abotu sex and money at all, which is what most people like to think. And despite what one critci has said of this novel it is not all about sex, there is no more sex in it than in any other adult book. It really engrossed me and I'd read for such long stretches of time I'd come away with a tension headache, and a little confused about who I was because I got so into the character of Norma Jeane.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Excellent book! I love the way JCO writes, jumbled, and the story was enticing! I would just like to comment, though, that if anyone should give a book review, they should try reading the entire book first and not just read the first few chapters. There is no way anyone could make a good book review like that.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the best books I've ever read! It's stunning. Joyce Carol Oates creates a kind of mytical atmosphere in this book, something that makes its sometimes very raw and merciless bits of reality stand out even more. And the way she is treated by men... This is a book that can tell you somthing abouty people: how little we really know about each other, and that someone's outsides can be so totally different from their insides. We never really know each other. My heart aches with the Marilyn of this book. How close she comes to the real Marilyn I guess we'll never know, but it seems real. Perhaps even too real. This Norma Jean/Marilyn is such a lonely and desperate person. That was something that struck me: she was always alone, her whole life. Always alone. I guess we all are, in a way. Every man an island, as they say, and in her case it was very true. ...............If you have anything to say to me about this book, please email me.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    "Blond" is one of the best books I ever read!! I felt so close with Norma Jean, and so it seemed I could feel her pain. Norma Jean Baker was a very talented person, but sadly, so many people took advantage of her. She is my idol. The author of this book told Norma Jean's life struggle with a lot of dignity!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    A life filled with so many struggles, disappointments, heartaches and turmoil unfolded right in front of me. I now have a new appreciation for the woman behind the mask of Marilyn Monroe!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Fascination with Marilyn, and a love the author's previous books led me to get this off my shelf and read it. Full of imagined details of Norma Jeane's life, the book puts a realistic spin on a fairy tale, or perhaps, a nightmare existence. I recommend it, not to everyone, because it is over 700 pages, but if you like Marilyn, read it.