Published by Tin House Books
Publication date: July 24th 2012
Genres: Fiction, Literary
The 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death was this month and it’s been heralded by an uptick in new books about her life. I reviewed Lois Banner’s biography Marilyn last week but was interested to see what a fiction author would do, especially as so much of Marilyn’s life reads like fiction anyway. How would one choose which way to go from the trove of material available?
In Misfit, Adam Braver chooses to reenact the last weekend before Marilyn’s death; a weekend spent at the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino owned by Frank Sinatra who, she believes, “will watch out for her with no strings; he’s probably the only person on earth whom she can trust to provide her with such a sanctuary.” However, the weekend and the events that transpire are only one thread of the many Braver weaves to explore how the various aspects of Marilyn’s life pushed and pulled at her psyche and her ability to function as an integrated whole. The novel moves back and forth from Cal Neva to her childhood visiting her mother in hospitals, and to the tension-filled set of Misfits, her movie with her hero, Clark Gable, and a time that marked the demise of her marriage to Miller, despite his having ostensibly written the movie for her. We also see inside her ill-fated marriage to Joe DiMaggio, a man who loved her but needed her to fit a mold she never would.
He’s severed all his connections to the entertainment world, and he’s been trying to get her to do the same, clinging to the belief that once she’s freed from the industry they can reunite. It’s a ridiculous task. Sisyphean. Because no matter what, the woman he believes he knows was created from an Adam’s rib in a studio office in Culver City.
Braver’s style is clean and crisp even when writing from inside the mind of a fragile and conflicted woman. We feel her vulnerability but also glimpse a keen mind that was often overlooked. In reflecting on her relationship with playwright Arthur Miller she says,
“she’s been sensing that despite all the platitudes, he doesn’t really take her seriously as an artist or an intellectual…He spends much more time diagnosing and analyzing her than exchanging ideas. Her natural instinct is to reject this relationship as if it were some transplanted organ.”
Knowing the outcome gives this book a patina of sadness; the more that’s revealed of the inner Marilyn the more protective the reader feels. For a person as emotionally delicate as she was she placed herself in the one industry most clearly designed to tear a woman down while holding her to impossible to maintain standards. As her weekend at Cal Neva comes to an end she feels not rejuvenated but worn down even further.
“This is what the future look like. How it lives. Like a room on a ward, where your disappointments and fears live among you as taunting reminders, while outside there’s a world that’s festively alive, but which you can’t enter because your disappointments and fears won’t let you out.”
Braver makes fine use of artistic license and goes deeply into the voice of Marilyn, a place biographers are not allowed to visit. And while it will never be known what she thought or felt about much of her life and persona, Braver’s prose highlights a very clear sense that the schism between Marilyn and the girl/woman Norma Jeane was a wide and confusing one.
…what we can’t hear is what it means for her to be seen. And how she’s always believed that nobody ever sees her quite right, and that maybe now that will change.