Plaster (News, 2016, etc.) presents a comical novel concerning a lost film of Marilyn Monroe.
Henrietta is a struggling entertainment reporter in Oklahoma City, or “OKC,” as it’s often referred to in the text. The city may not seem like a hotbed of show-business activity, but a peculiar set of circumstances is destined to turn it into one. A down-on-his-luck producer/director named Deano DeBoffo happens to be stranded in town, where he was trying find backers for his own film, when the opportunity arises to make a movie about screen legend Monroe. A Hollywood agent/screenwriter in OKC named Marty Lowry claims to be in possession of a reel of 16-millimeter film, a little over three minutes long, that shows Monroe engaging in a sex act. Lowry’s idea is a simple one: he wants Deano to create a short docudrama around the footage and shoot scenes on the cheap in OKC using nothing but local talent. As luck would have it, the city happens to be home to a phenomenal Monroe impersonator—recently laid-off high school drama teacher Jim Bob Sherill. Jim Bob has dreams of becoming an actor; indeed, he’s so skilled at portraying Monroe that those who hire him seem to be unaware that he isn’t a woman. Meanwhile, other teachers are marching on the Oklahoma state capitol in protest of low wages and cuts to school arts program funding. As the teachers protest, the legislature considers incentives to lure other filmmakers to Oklahoma—and soon, the worlds of LA entertainment and OKC politics collide.
The setup is indeed absurd, but as the novel goes on, it delves into some surprising subjects, including conspiracies surrounding Monroe’s death, the merits of the films of Edward D. Wood Jr., and details of method acting. Along the way, the reader learns, for instance, that Jacqueline Kennedy, of all people, said in 1962 that Monroe “will go on eternally.” Insights such as these give an unexpected weight to the fantastical characters and situations throughout. By contrast, when the book tackles more mundane subjects, it’s not quite as illuminating. The inclusion of angry teachers into the mix, for instance, doesn’t add very much to the drama, outside of a great deal of singing (Don McLean’s 1971 song “American Pie” makes more than one appearance) and the belabored idea that politicians aren’t very smart. At one point, for instance, the latter realize that that they can’t cut down too much on school funding—after all, having kids in the classroom is better than “having kids on the streets five days a week,” which “would sure enough spell trouble.” Indeed, the political aspects of the novel will likely test the reader’s patience, as the much more pressing issue is the creation of the docudrama and all the insanity that arises from it. The focus on Monroe’s life—and why she’s remembered so fondly, even today—proves to be much more intriguing than a fight for public school dance and theater productions.
A sometimes-haphazard tale but one with insightful moments.