Marilyn in Fragments

Ed Feingersh, 1955

“For at the heart of the Marilyn Monroe legend beats that most American of stories: a wholly engrossing, Great Gatsby–style quest for self-transformation that starts (and too often ends) with nothing. Fragments reveals previously unreleased images of the star, all cocked eyebrows and adamant hand gestures, fully engaged by art and conversation; her stalwart support of friend Ella Fitzgerald’s efforts to sing in white clubs; a voracious reader who favored such soothsayers as Steinbeck, Kerouac and Sherwood Anderson; and her scattered, sharply sensitive musings. The world’s most famous sex object was also, it seems, a shrewd and compassionate subject, if one bombarded by her impressions. “For life, it is rather a determination not to be overwhelmed,” she wrote in 1954. ‘For work, the truth can only be recalled, not invented.’

It was a difficult edict for a woman forever struggling to reinvent herself as a way to transcend a past strewn with abandonment and abuse. It was also one this book suggests she accepted as the price of authenticity with her characteristic cocktail of grace, forbearance and grief.

Now that I am roughly the oldest age Marilyn ever lived to be, I grasp what that postcard promised all along: An elusive admixture of hope and industry, will and willingness, to which she strove until her final days. An able, grownup-lady femininity that now, more than ever, is in too short supply.”

Lisa Rosman, LA Weekly

“The image of Marilyn Monroe as a lifelong reader is one I find deeply touching. Literature was not able to save her from a sad fate, but I have no doubt that it enriched her life, her thought, her feelings and gave her joy along the way. We cannot ask more of any art than that.

I’ve already seen, in lazy news items on this book, snarky comments exalting Marilyn and her reading habits above contemporary troubled sex objects the likes of Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton. But this is to entirely miss the point, which is, of course: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Doubtless Marilyn contemporaries like Lawrence Olivier, who treated her contemptuously while filming The Prince and the Showgirl, would have scoffed at the notion she had any inner life at all. Yes, it seems likely Lindsay reads little more than Tweets on her smartphone, but we don’t know that for certain.”

Chauncey Mabe, Open Page

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