Award-winning American author Joyce Carol Oates caused a stir in 1999 with her controversial Marilyn Monroe novel, Blonde. It has now been filmed, starring Ana de Armas, and will be a Netflix release later this year.
Oates has called the film "an exquisite portrait of Marilyn Monroe", noting "the tone of the film is hard to classify, not surreal but not totally realistic, not 'horror' but suffused with the dread of horror". The same description could be used to describe the title novella and the eight short stories in Night, Neon.
"Miss Golden Dreams 1949", which continues her fascination with Marilyn Monroe, is written from the perspective of a DNA-cloned Marilyn Monroe being auctioned at Sotheby's, with a starting price of $22 million.
The story follows "Marilyn's" coaxing of an elderly, and clearly wealthy, businessman, whom she constantly addresses as "Daddy", to make a bid. Oates reflects on the continuing commoditisation of Monroe and American perceptions of beauty.
Another American cult figure, Charles Manson, features in "Parole Hearing, California Institution For Women, Chino, CA" , which was written on the 50th anniversary of the notorious Manson trial. Oates has commented, "The story is partly historic, based upon composite 'Manson-girl' figures . . . imagined as the expression of one who in her heart exults in the most profound, if horrific, act of her entire life. She is not repentant, in fact she is rather proud of herself, even as she pleads for parole", for the 15th time.
The novella, "Night, Neon", retrospectively follows a young woman, Juliana, through her unfortunate, and often violent, experiences with men, although with a possibly happy conclusion. The reader must choose. Oates has said, "I think that my stories tend to be unpredictable because women who appear to be headed for victimisation don't always wind up as victims but, in fact, as aggressors, surprising even themselves with their capacity for self-defence, shading and violence".
This is certainly the case in the opening story, "Detour". A married woman, Abigail, driving home, is forced by roadworks to take a detour down an isolated forest road, where she stalls her car and loses her phone in a flooded ditch.
Seeking help, she finds herself in an isolated house, where she is locked in the bedroom by an unknown man who clearly recognises her as his wife. Abigail wonders if she is concussed and that her confused mental state is indeed reality.
Oates certainly knows how to twist the tensions in her engrossing stories of psychological suspense.
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