In bestselling author Anna Godbersen’s book The Blonde, about film icon/sex goddess Marilyn Monroe, all the familiar names are there: Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Clark Gable, John and Robert Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, members of the KGB. The KGB? And that’s when it becomes clear that this is not just another book about Marilyn Monroe, like the countless others before it.
True, it sets itself apart simply by being a novel as opposed to a biography or tell-all. But beyond that, it is an intriguing “what if” story, exploring a life that Marilyn might have lived, full of celebrated names and places as well as a large dash of political intrigue and a clever sense of imagination.
After a brief opening chapter featuring young Norma Jeane, who would become Marilyn, the book fast-forwards to 1959, when Marilyn the actress has already achieved stardom and is attending the “Some Like It Hot” premiere. She’s also about to be approached by Alexi Lazarev, a Russian spy she’d encountered years before, who is now pressing her into service for her first assignment: finding out secrets about Senator John F. Kennedy. The entire Kennedy/Marilyn affair becomes the subplot for the novel, with a voyeuristic approach to their romance.
It takes a hefty dose of imagination to accept this plot point and several others that follow, but for readers who are willing to suspend reality, the payoff will be a thrilling, though bizarre, experience.
The concept of Marilyn as a Russian spy is a large literary hurdle to overcome, but somehow the author leads one to envision how and why this could have happened, and to see what effect it could have had on all the other events that would follow during Marilyn’s tragically short life. Marilyn fans, or anyone who lived through the era of the 1950s and 60s, will recognize the events that unfold and it is to Godbersen’s credit that her research appears to be spot on. In a strange way, this becomes comforting as the reader follows along with what is known to be true about the movie goddess. Every name, place and incident is meticulously presented and even though this is clearly a novel, there is a sense of “being there” during the historical and social events that shaped the actress’s life. This makes it all the more fascinating when the purely fictional elements are inserted, because they almost seem plausible.
Since each chapter is dated, the clock is ticking toward the time readers dread – August, 1962, when Marilyn passes away. But this is not the end of the book, and what transpires from that point on it by far the most unusual and outrageous, but it is rather delicious in its own weird way. The Blonde may not appeal to everyone, but it is certainly a creative departure from the other books written about the legend, and a credit to Godbersen’s talent to weave a story.
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