“I always had too many fantasies to be just a housewife,” Marilyn Monroe once said. “I guess I am a fantasy.” Little did she know how many of us would share that fantasy, nearly fifty years after her death. Monroe has been the subject of many biographies, some more fanciful than real, and also a few works of honest fiction. Her image is indelibly marked on our collective consciousness.
Norma Jeane’s Wishes In Time began as a short story, and was later expanded into a full-length novel. As the title indicates, author Stuart P. Coates is fascinated not just by the Marilyn Monroe of screen legend, but the woman who created her – Norma Jeane Mortenson. We all know Marilyn, or think we do – but who was Norma Jeane, and was she very different?
Our perceptions of Monroe are often clouded by what we know of her life – her unhappy childhood, failed marriages, struggles with depression and addiction, and her sudden death at just 36 years old. By using the narrative of science fiction, Coates views his heroine from a fresh angle.
The story begins a century after Marilyn Monroe’s lifetime, in 2079. America’s economy has long since collapsed, and the former USA is now part of a relaunched Soviet Union. All newborn children are assigned Designation Numbers, instead of names. It is here that we meet Coates’ other main protagonist, a young man known only as ‘77241’.
The first sightings of Monroe come from her movies, and 7 is bemused at this now-antiquated medium. Determined to change the course of our history, 7 boards a ‘time bubble’, and while planning to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the world’s subsequent decline, crashes into the Nevada desert of 1960, where Marilyn Monroe is filming The Misfits.
A lonely, disaffected Monroe confides in the stranger, but is alarmed when he talks of the president’s future murder. She leaves the desert and joins 7 in the Time Bubble, renaming him ‘Adam’.
Along the way, Norma Jeane/Marilyn encounters several other famous personalities, the heroes and villains of history. There is a vibrant scene where Marilyn meets her younger self, auditioning for a modeling agency. The lively, spirited Norma Jeane mocks her older, weary counterpart. This leads to further self-examination for Marilyn, and with Adam’s help, she beats her debilitating addiction to sleeping pills.
Later on, Marilyn travels alone to meet her own idol, Abraham Lincoln, and tries to stop his assassination. In saving Lincoln, Marilyn wipes out her own existence, and future chances of happiness. So she must turn back time, and in doing so, meets Samuel Clemens (better known as the writer, Mark Twain), and her own great-grandmother, Jennie Nance, who is then just eight years old, a recent immigrant from Scotland.
Their steam-train journey from Washington to San Francisco contains some of the funniest scenes in the novel. By using a non-celebrity, Jennie, and contrasting her with Twain and Monroe, Coates makes his trip through American history easier for readers to connect with.
Finally Marilyn, Twain and Jennie travel into the distant future to save Adam, and humanity, from the sinister Dr Blight (aka Jack The Ripper.) The struggle between the ultimate sex goddess and the deadly misogynist create an almost feminist twist as the story draws to a close.
Norma Jeane’s Wishes In Time has some of the flaws of a first novel – the dialogue could be cut down, the action is sometimes over-explained. Some of the minor characters are sketched rather than finely detailed. But these are small quibbles and the book should be enjoyed for what it is, not what it was never intended to be. This is no lofty literary tome, but a loving tribute from a fan, to be enjoyed by other fans.
Additionally, Coates diverges from other Monroe-inspired fictions. Significantly, he depicts Marilyn Monroe not as a victim or sex object, but an endearing and complex woman. Yes, she has her knight in shining armour (Adam) – but this Cinderella has the power to redeem herself, and others too.
Norma Jeane’s Wishes In Time is an entertaining curiosity, offering us a chance to join Marilyn, Adam and the rest and escape our troubles for a while. It has a nostalgic appeal, reviving a brand of optimism that has long been associated with the American Dream. Marilyn Monroe, as portrayed here, is a shining example of the quintessential, plucky American heroine.
“In this time,” Coates writes (as Adam), “some often liken you to a goddess. True, you were the last and greatest of the Hollywood goddesses; but if you recall, those gods and goddesses desired to acquire human traits, such as love, hate, desire and compassion. You came at it from the other direction…a person who held onto your humanity no matter how famous or big a star you became.”
This quotation expresses how the contradictions in Marilyn could not only co-exist but even thrive, despite the tragedy of her life. The goddess and the girl-next-door, victim and survivor – the duality of Norma Jeane/Marilyn is the key to her continuing popularity, and she is still an icon in our own complicated times.
For more information and details of how to order this book, visit Stuart P. Coates’ website here