Books: The Anatomy of an Icon

Joyce Carol Oates' Blonde offers, if you can believe it, a fictionalized biography of Marilyn Monroe

Novelists who put real, that is, historical, people in their works seem willfully to be choosing the worst of two worlds. If the fictionalized portrait veers too sharply from what is known about the original model, the author will be rapped for excessive or irresponsible inventiveness. But if the facts of the matter are honored and carefully rehashed, critics and readers will ask why the damn book is called a novel at all.

Joyce Carol Oates, an astute critic as well as an accomplished and prolific novelist, surely knew the trouble she was making for herself in Blonde (HarperCollins; 738 pages;...

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