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.