Back in 2010 Adam Braver was drafting another novel of re-imagined fiction. Having published three times in the genre (Divine Sarah, Mr. Lincoln’s Wars, November 22, 1963) Braver told me he was busy researching the last weekend of Marilyn Monroe’s life, July 27-29, 1962, when she visited Lake Tahoe as a guest of Frank Sinatra. The book was due out in 2012.
Aha, I told him. The book will come out just in time for the 50th anniversary of her passing.
Sure enough, Misfit debuted this month, almost 50 years to the day after the famous actress died. Surprisingly, the Monroe anniversary has gone by practically unnoticed, thanks to the Summer Olympics, rough-and-tumble political campaigns and a tragic shooting at a Sikh temple.
But I hope this novel gets the notice it deserves. Again Braver has delivered on his premise to offer an alternative interpretation of history we think we know so well. True to his name, it’s a brave play, but anyone who would dare tackle the JFK assassination and succeed in surprising us deserves our full attention and admiration.
I admit I’m prejudiced. Braver was one of my mentors in graduate school. His November 22, 1963 was chosen as a community read for Newton, NC in 2010, which brought him to dinner at my house when we had the conversation about the Monroe project.
So what happened that last weekend in 1962? We find the tormented Monroe at Sinatra’s Cal Neva Lodge, a place Braver recalls from his own childhood family vacations in the 1970s. The inn, which straddles the California and Nevada state line, is a perfect metaphor for the actress torn between the two people she was: Norma Jean Baker the foster child and Marilyn Monroe the Hollywood icon.
The novel covers far more territory than a couple of days among Hollywood elites on Lake Tahoe. Braver deftly threads episodes from Monroe’s life from childhood through adulthood, including details we don’t know or could not have known, because the point of view is Monroe herself–that larger-than-life figure who few understood.
In lesser hands, Misfit could have devolved into a cheesy re-telling of sordid details and conspiracy theories. With Braver, one of the best-known chapters in Hollywood history becomes fresh. His dogged research coupled with the art of recreating the character becomes a study of emotional genealogy. We come to know Monroe as never before as Braver delivers compelling historical truths with controlled accuracy.