Published by Blue Rider Press
Publication date: July 19th 2012
Marilyn Monroe is one of the most iconic stars in American history. Numerous non-fiction books detail her life but it is the fiction that provides more fodder for the rumors about her death; namely because it can draw on the smallest of details and create a story around them. If it sounds like I’m getting ready to slam this genre, relax. I’m a fan of it, albeit not of the more trashy and explicit kind of books. The Empty Glass by J.I. Baker takes Marilyn’s last days alive and uses them as part of a theory about her death (suicide? murder?). The good news is that he does it well. The Empty Glass resurrects a number of the inconsistencies in the aftermath of the discovery of Marilyn’s body and the investigation that followed.
This is the perfect read for a cold and dreary weekend because it reflects just that. For a star of such shining luminosity Baker turns her last days into a muddled mess of confusion. She was alternately high and low, angry and apathetic, sober and stoned out of her mind. It is the same for the narrator, deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald, who is sent to the scene to find information on the next of kin and instead stumbles into the mystery of her missing diary, the weekend she spent with Frank Sinatra before her death, and tapes made from bugs placed around her house and on her phone. Despite every manner of abuse heaped on him, Fitzgerald is lured by Marilyn’s mystique into trying to get answers to questions that no one wants asked. His obsession with her leads him into the same dangerous territory Marilyn entered throughout her life.
Baker does a marvelous job with the voices of Monroe and Fitzgerald. He mimics the staccato and paranoia of too much alcohol and uppers and the bleary sluggishness of barbiturates to such perfection it feels as if you’re in the room with them. Sometimes it’s fun and exciting and sometimes it’s painful to watch. By intermingling their voices a point is reached where it’s no longer certain who the subject is. Yes, Monroe is the celebrity and Fitzgerald a coroner who has made some bad choices but both find themselves in over their heads. In The Empty Glass Baker captures the disarray, confusion, and fear that enveloped Marilyn’s life and the life of anyone who got too close—even after she died.