Bookish Blonde: Joyce Carol Oates Unveils New Story on Marilyn

Ahead of the forthcoming Netflix adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Blonde, the author has penned a new short story inspired by Marilyn, as part of her latest collection, Night, Neon. ‘Miss Golden Dreams 1949’ – the title references Marilyn’s nude calendar shoot with photographer Tom Kelley – is a somewhat macabre slice of science fiction, in which a cloned Monroe goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s, with a starting price of $22 million.

The story is told in the clone’s voice, as she coaxes an elderly businessman – whom she addresses as ‘Daddy’ – to make a bid. Essentially, a creepier version of Lorelei and ‘Piggy’ Beekman in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. As a satire on auction culture and the ongoing commoditization of MM, it’s quite effective; a little less so, perhaps, in honouring the real Marilyn’s humanity (although her tragic life and underlying rage are also conveyed.)

In addition to Blonde, Oates has published two other short stories about Marilyn: ‘Three Girls’ (2002),  and ‘Black Dahlia, White Rose’ (2010.) Both are worth seeking out, and personally, I prefer Oates’ work in this form. She has discussed her new book in an interview for the Orange County Register, and will be appearing on Bookish, a free online event this Friday, July 16, alongside three other writers including crime novelist Carl Hiaasen.

Q. The narrator in ‘Miss Golden Dreams 1949’ is a synthetic version of Marilyn Monroe, which made me recall your novel Blonde, which is also a fictional imagining of the star. Why does the tragedy of her continue to resonate in the American imagination?

“Marilyn Monroe continues to haunt America. Of all film stars, she was most cruelly used, exploited, condescended-to, both idolized and despised for her radiant childlike beauty. Trapped in the Hollywood studio system, perpetually under contract to perform in films intended to exploit her sexuality, she seems to have found no way out except self-destruction. Yet, the record of her films shows a remarkably gifted, if underestimated young actress capable of something like comic genius (in Some Like It Hot) and tragic pathos (in The Misfits).”