REVIEW: 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe' by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Well.  If you're looking for an unbiased account of the life of Marilyn, don't look to this book.

This is not to say there isn't a whole lot of new and noteworthy information in this book, especially in the beginning chapters, which covered Marilyn's childhood.  But, I say "noteworthy" with a grain of salt, and here's why: after reading this book, it has become clear to me that we will never have a definitive answer to who Marilyn Monroe was, why she has become so special to our culture, or what her life was really like.  She will remain a mystery.

Taraborrelli loses a little credibility for me in two respects.  Firstly, he does not list all of his source material in his appendices.  He says it is because there is too much of it, and it is his observation that the common reader does not even look at the notes in the back of a book after finishing it.  I say, WTF?  A common reader may not (and honestly, I often don't), but one who wants to make sure you're legit will, especially if your book is on the subject of Marilyn Monroe.  There have been so many stories about her, many of them fabricated, it seems ridiculous not to list every single material used for the creation of your own storytelling.  That said, Taraborrelli does list his primary sources, some of which are pretty impressive...or sketchy, depending on how cynical you are.  How on earth he was able to find Della Monroe's (Marilyn's grandmother) death certificate in the hands of a former neighbor was beyond me.  Many of the interviews he conducted for the first few sections of the book were with friends of neighbors, or family of neighbors, of the foster parents, orphanage management, and guardians Norma Jeane lived with in her early years.  The excerpts from these interviews are detailed, and for the most part, the stories seem to correspond with one another.  However, many of them focus not on Norma Jeane necessarily, but on her mother and grandmother.  I'm not sure if their lives were better documented, but the beginning chapters seemed to have more clout than those in the middle and end of the book, which detailed Marilyn's film career, her bout with prescription drugs, and her time with the Kennedys.  At times I wondered if he was basing whole chapters on Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.  There were also a few minor unexplained discrepancies in the gathered information that were either missed during editing or thought too small to bother with...but that sort of thing causes me to start viewing the author as unreliable.

The second aspect of the book that made my belief in it waver had to do with Taraborrelli's thesis, if you will.  The book was billed as an account that could link Marilyn's decline with her mother's (and father's, as it turned out) mental illness.  There were many suggestions of Marilyn's "hearing voices," but no credible evidence is given to prove that, excepting one or two stories saying she hallucinated a man who was following her.  I am not discounting the possibility that Marilyn also suffered from poor mental health, but this book did better providing evidence of her drug addiction.  The end of the book doesn't make any clear-cut assertions as to the cause of her death except to rule out conspiracy theory.  Floating between accidental overdose (or more correctly, intentional overdose with the underlying aim to call for rescue at the last minute) and suicide, Taraborrelli tries to tie both theories back to Marilyn's alleged mental illness, but only succeeds in keeping her as elusive as when the story, and possibly the research, began.

All of this said, I was not at all unhappy with the book.  It was easy to follow, and the fresh angle on Marilyn's personal life and family history was appealing to me, as most of what I've read so far has been about her career, death, and love interests.  Though the absolute truth about Marilyn's life is once again far from attained, there are a lot of good nuggets in here that are at least worth comparing to the other gems in your collection.

UP NEXT: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Another classic I have, until now, only seen on Wishbone!  And, it's the perfect prerequisite to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, which is on my list for the month of July. 

Peter Pan Me, Please

Oy vey.  I must say, I've been much more focused on new summer clothes, fashion, fragrance, fine food, and finally, FINALLY having enough money to pay off my credit card (yay!) to think much about the world of books this month.  I have still been reading up a storm, though, and that Secret Life review will be coming up quicker than you think (or than I planned).  I've actually already finished the book.  However, I'm making a point this time to read the appendices, as they diverge from the usual list format and are actually giving me more information about the author's sources, and consequently, about Marilyn.

Reading about a woman who is portrayed as never having truly grown up, and with summer fast approaching, I'm in the mood for light, dependable kids' books.  The B/F and I often have rather emphatic debates about age-appropriate reading material: when is it time to bite the bullet and stop reading books written for a younger audience?

The B/F will tell you that as you grow up, it's time to move on to more and more grown-up subject matter.  Like in phases, I guess.  What bothers me is when he tells me you can't go back.

What are you talking about?  Of course you can go back.  I know the way well.  Right back through all the bestsellers, chick lit, fiction, non-fiction, romance novels, fantasy/sci-fi, cookbooks, history, social science, and self-help, to land smack in the middle of the young adult section.  Or maybe even the children's section.  And sometimes even the infants' section!  (Don't deny it.  That bunny tail will always be so nice and soft to touch.) 

Sure, depending on how far back you go, you might look just slightly ridiculous.  But, when I browse those sections, I usually find that people think I'm there looking for a gift.  No need to feel embarrassed.  Sometimes you need simplicity in your head.  I can't think of a better way to get there than to read a children's book.  It's not like no one else is doing it.

So, obviously, my unshakable answer to The B/F's protests?  Never.  You are never too old for a kids' book.  Look at the success of Twilight among adults -- or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Heck, are you going to tell me you wouldn't sit down to read the first Captain Underpants from cover to cover if you had the chance? 

Kids' books are great because they don't hide anything.  You know exactly what you're getting.  There is not much guessing, not much reading between the lines.  This might sound backwards, or incredibly lazy, but every once in awhile, it's just so refreshing to have everything spelled out for you.  It's like therapy. 

The feeling of nostalgia I get when I re-read a FAVORITE kids' book is the BEST.  Oh, there are so many.  The Rough-Faced Girl.  Ramona the Pest.  The Pinballs.  Henry and Mudge.  Clifford the Big Red Dog.  Clifford the Small Red Puppy.  Charlotte's Web.  The Stupids Die.  Strega Nona.  The Store-Bought Doll.  Thundercake.  The Baby-sitters Club.  Spider Saves Easter.  The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  Oh, The Sweet Smell of Christmas.  That book was amazing.

Last fall when we took a trip with my family down to our favorite beach vacation spot, The B.F. and I ventured into the local bookstore (I still have no idea what it's called, even though I've been inside it at least once during every trip of the 9+ years my family has vacationed there), and THERE IT WAS.  An entire display of children's books, stacked with literally most of my favorites.  I wanted to ask how much for the whole five shelves.  The B.F. just stood, shuffling his feet, watching me melt, prodding me to leave them.  But how could I?  How could I leave Hats for Sale?  And Frog and Toad?  And Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus?  And Babe the Gallant Pig (way better than the movie, btw)And Stone Soup?  Seriously, you want me to put down Stone Soup?  With the same cover I remember from my childhood?  I honest-to-goodness got teary-eyed when I could see that The B/F didn't understand my feelings for those books, when they didn't touch him in the way they touched me. 

Sometimes I think I want to have children just so I can buy books for them, then steal them and read them for myself.  Under the covers.  With a flashlight.  We'll put the hall light on and turn the TV up in the other room just for effect.  When books can bring you to that special place, the one that makes you feel so good and safe, the one you thought was nearly gone, that's when you know they are worth reading.  That's what kids' books do for me.

And that's not so bad, is it?