Normalyn Morgan, 18, lives in a small Texas town in this Marilyn Monroe novel. Her mother, Enid Morgan, knew Marilyn Monroe (nee Norma Jean Baker) when both were in the Los Angeles Orphans’ Home. The relationship between the two women continued through the years. Then Enid Morgan died in 1980. She left two letters to her daughter Normalyn Morgan. One of these letters, signed “Marilyn,” asks Enid to take care of her daughter if “she is alive.” The other letter, addressed to Normalyn, assures her that Marilyn is her real mother and loved her. The second letter has the mysterious initials N.J.R.I.R.
So, Normalyn takes a bus to California to find out if Marilyn is her mother. Subsequently, Normalyn learns that possibly her unknown father might have been Robert Kennedy. Rechy’s book intermingles real people like the Kennedy brothers and make-believe creatures like Troja, a transsexual who does a Marilyn Monroe impersonation in a Hollywood cabaret; her/his lover, Kir, a Mr. America contender; a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David Lange, who may be modeled on Norman Mailer; a gossip columnist of great power modeled on Louella Parsons; and the members of a club, the Dead Movie Stars, who take the names of their idols--including James Dean and Errol Flynn.
As admirers of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald know, the motif of stripping away layers of deception and finding the truth, especially about one’s parentage, is a classic California theme, probably because so many of us are the children and grandchildren of parents who came out here to start new lives with new names and who had secrets.
Old corruptions fertilize the eucalyptus and the night-blooming jasmine.
I am sorry to say that Rechy’s novel does not work--either on the hallucinatory level of the Dead Movie Stars and the sinister streets of darkest Hollywood--or on the level of plot structure on which Chandler and Macdonald hung their searches for truth.
Rechy’s characters are names shuffling about without any lives of their own.
I’m not really talking about disliking the book in a personal way. I do have to take my reaction into account because I knew Marilyn Monroe and about her alleged Robert Kennedy connection; and I was personally acquainted with her last psychiatrist and her last internist (the two persons who discovered her corpse early on that Sunday morning of Aug. 5, 1962). I knew most of the significant individuals in her personal life and in her career--including Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller--and so, yes, I feel that Rechy’s book neither reflects reality nor distorts it interestingly.
It is just that “Marilyn’s Daughter” jerks one about awfully from scene to scene and page to page without any logical sequence, without flashes of insight into human beings, without dazzling moments of confrontation.
And without any damn suspense.
And, mind you, I happen to know that there is some evidence that Marilyn may really have had a daughter (though from another father) who has been living in Hawaii and is said to have a daughter.
And then there is prose: “ ‘Choose the word you prefer.’ His voice remained peremptory. ‘Imposter, candidate.’ When he spoke again, the harsh tone broke. The concern, the caring that had made her return to him over and over came back into his voice. . . .”
A distinguished novelist and critic, Rechy this time has produced a prose as dull as his characters.