“The Mmm Girl has left an indelible series of images in my memory..this novel is more accurate, in many ways, than anything else that has been written about Marilyn and it is the only book to ever leave me with a lasting impression of the loneliness and desperation of her real life.”
Stuart P. Coates, author of Norma Jeane’s Wishes In Time
Read his full review here…
The Mmm Girl — A Haunting Experience
When I went searching for something new, fresh and different to read about Marilyn Monroe, I did not have to think very hard or seek very far. I knew of a novel that had been written by Tara Hanks that would easily fulfill all of the above.
The Mmm Girl is a fictional auto-biography, as told in the first person, by the character of Norma Jeane Baker (Mortenson), later better known by her more famous name of Marilyn Monroe.
The novel is divided into four parts, in all, consisting of 37 chapters. The story is chronological. The opening chapters deal with Marilyn’s early life as a young child (then known as Norma Jeane) and progresses with Norma Jeane as the narrator up until the very last conscious moment of her life on an August night in 1962.
The fact that the book is written in the first person, while the actual author, Hanks, did not personally meet Marilyn Monroe or the younger Norma Jeane Mortenson intrigued me.
Could the author actually tell a fictional account of this now very well known person and make her character in the novel feel real? I got my answer and, as the title to this piece will tell you, it was a haunting experience for me!
The character of Norma Jeane/Marilyn is brought out vividly in a most effective way. The character feels real. In fact, this is the most effective work on Marilyn Monroe I have ever read in all of 31 years.
The writing flows as a very well-constructed, well-thought out story — not as a recital of mere facts interspersed with narrative as filler, but a truly fluid read that will keep the reader glued to the novel’s pages.
One will quickly become connected to the narrator, Norma Jeane/Marilyn, herself, as they turn the pages. The novel has 344 pages but it will read more like 200.
Did Hanks create a novel that gets the setting and the environment correct of the time in history in which Marilyn grew up? The answer, again, is yes. Painstakingly, yes! An enormous amount of time, effort and love went into this novel by Hanks and it is immediately apparent after reading only the opening pages.
I must admit, the character’s story-telling is so much as if Marilyn herself were telling it that, already knowing (roughly) how the story would end, about 70 pages into the novel, I jumped to the last chapter to see how this character’s description of her own final moments of life would be handled. I became curious — more than curious — to see if this same first-person telling of Monroe’s life would be carried out consistently to the very end.
Here is my skepticism concerning how the ending would be handled:
At the quarter-mark of the novel, I had been fully drawn in by Hanks’s masterful writing style. Surely, Hanks wouldn’t be able to relay that account in the first person and make it convincing! She got the character down so well in her writing for the first quarter of the book. To be truthful, I had to find out. I turned to that last chapter and read it. This was the part of the novel that I indeed found haunting.
The impact of that final chapter will be a lasting one for me. The Mmm Girl has now left an indelible series of images in my memory. This is the only book written on Marilyn Monroe I have read that has ever done this to me. The description of what happens in that final chapter is so convincing that I am almost certain this is exactly what was going through Marilyn’s mind the last night she was alive in her bedroom in her Brentwood home.
When I returned back to where I had jumped from in the novel and began reading again, I saw the gradual acceleration of her life unfold to that haunting ending. It riveted me to the story.
Other authors have told this story in their biographies, but I have always felt somewhat disconnected from Marilyn, herself, adding to the enigma surrounding her death and I have come away from their books unsatisfied, wanting.
Although this is a fictional work, The Mmm Girl has finally left me with a lasting, haunting series of images of what the last hours of Marilyn’s life would have been like had I been there in her home on that particular night many, many years ago. And I felt the very same empathy for the Marilyn-character portrayed in this novel.
To me, this novel is more accurate, in many ways, than anything else that has been written about Marilyn and it is the ONLY book to ever leave me with a lasting impression of the loneliness and desperation of her real life.
As a point of criticism, at one point in the book, an enormous number of minor characters enter the story. I thought, initially, this had a tendency to bog down the story.
“This is getting too cluttered,” I was beginning to think to myself as I read through it, but upon further reflection it made perfect sense. All of these minor characters — although prominent in Marilyn’s life for the moment — were actually transient for her. None of them were really going to be there for any prolonged period of time. They were necessary for properly getting the facts correct, but they had no lasting value to her or the story.
If you were a complete new-comer to learning about Monroe and if the reader, like me, has no interest in these other people with whom she associated, you might start to feel overwhelmed.
My advice to a novice Monroe reader is to keep your focus on the narrator, Marilyn, through the story and simply observe how the minor characters keep changing around her as the story progresses.
When I became aware of the rate at which new characters were introduced and then just as quickly, faded from the story, everything started to fit together. These minor characters are like the nuts and bolts (most of the “nuts” in a different sense of the word) holding the story together.
None of these minor characters lasted in Marilyn’s life. The same must be said about her actual life. Take away the nuts and bolts of a structure and it collapses. Take away all those who transiently supported her as a human being and she collapsed, too. The horrible thing about this is a building can be brought to the ground and reconstructed, whereas a human being cannot. With the exception of friends like Joe DiMaggio and Shelley Winters, the rest of them really weren’t there for this woman!
This is a rather astounding statement to make, but if you really want to know about the person of Marilyn Monroe instead of just the statistics about her career — this fictional telling of her life, The Mmm Girl, is your very best bet out there, in this reader’s opinion.
Furthermore, unlike other books I have on Marilyn Monroe, this one won’t be gathering any dust. I will be re-reading this story many times over. And each time, I know I will be finding out something new about the actual person. The Mmm Girl is just the book to do this. It differs from all other Marilyn books for me. It held my interest and I was left with some lasting images throughout the book, which is more than I can say for every other book out there on Marilyn Monroe.
Hanks has added something completely new and of value to Marilyn Literature. Marilyn Monroe died many years ago, but she still lives within the pages of her novel — The Mmm Girl.
For anyone wishing to learn who Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jeane Mortenson) really was — what she experienced and how she thought, this is the book to purchase!
It’s well worth it!