Fine, literate novel about Marilyn Monroe, in 13 set-pieces. Skirting clichÇs in the Marilyn literature, Toperoff (Lost Sundays, 1989, etc.) devises a dramatic mode of approaching the star that delivers a well-realized MM amid a fully satisfying bevy of supporting characters. The author excels at presence on the scene and dialogue that at its best has an inspired rightness. The 13 chapters include young-married Norma Jean accompanying a wisecracking friend to an abortion and putting herself out by arranging for the car, paying half the bill, and seeing her friend through the physical crisis. We watch her being ``raped'' at nine years old by her mother's boyfriend (Norma Jean's abed with a fake fever, and Mom's away for a half hour), who pretends to be taking the girl's temperature with a rectal thermometer while actually invading her vagina. Still during her teenage marriage, we are with her during a gig with a small band while she grows as a singer and learns to concentrate. If this scene is weak, it's nonetheless followed by a strong one as Marilyn's new agent/lover Johnny Hyde takes her to Hollywood's top plastic surgeon for fuzz removal and slight facial reconstruction. Then follows an amusing scene of Marilyn aloft and cabined with sportswriters in the press box at Yankee Stadium and melting such towering cynics as Red Smith and Jimmy Cannon while Joe DiMaggio fumes. And Joe fumes as Billy Wilder films Marilyn getting her skirts upblown by a New York subway. Then MM wows the Actors Studio. Arthur Miller fumes while Marilyn comes onto Frank Lloyd Wright and wants to accept Wright's high-priced plans for a Connecticut retreat. And so on, through Marilyn's last night, as she dies while talking on the phone with a talk-show host. Extremely skillful and moving.
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