The Empty Glass by J.I Baker

Excerpt from a CIA memo dated August 3, 1962

“2. Subject repeatedly called the Attorney General’s office and complained about the way she was being ignored by the president and his brother.

3. Subject threatened to hold a press conference and would tell all.” (from The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe by Donald H. Wolfe)

About 1/3 of the way through The Empty Glass, a debut fiction novel written by J.I Baker, almost unable to grasp the significance of what I was reading, I put the book down and started reading about the recorded events surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s death. Marilyn had just been dumped by Robert Kennedy and she told Robert Slatzer, a former lover,  “If I don’t hear from Bobby Kennedy soon I’m going to call a press conference and blow the lid off this whole damn thing. I’m going to tell about my relationships with both Kennedy brothers.The Empty Glass is narrated by Ben Fitzgerald, a deputy LA coroner, who has the misfortune to be called to Monroe’s house on August 5, 1962, and the book details the mysteries surrounding this bizarre case. As I read the book, I asked myself if this was true–how much of this incredible stuff that I was reading was made up? Was this a figment of the author’s imagination? To my surprise (well, shock, really), I discovered that not only has the author very carefully reconstructed the events and the names of that night, but he also included some portentous events from both JFK’s and Marilyn Monroe’s life. The interesting thing here is that we will probably never know for certain what happened that night at Monroe’s home. We can speculate all we want, but by writing a fiction novel, the author effectively steps into a sequence of events in which the outrageous details were hijacked and an alternative narrative created by the people who…yes, I’m going to say it.. by the people who wanted Marilyn Monroe dead.

I have a vague childhood memory of hearing my mother discuss Marilyn Monroe and agreeing with the consensus opinion that she committed suicide as she was aging and couldn’t handle the knowledge that her looks were fading. Anyway, Monroe was a well-known loose cannon, so the suicide fit with that tragic star image. Author J.I.Baker shows that if the story fed to the public for the first 24 hours sails unchecked, then it’s virtually impossible to change the accepted narrative without invoking that nutball, dismissive phrase ‘conspiracy theory.’ What’s so very interesting here is that the author, using fiction as his venue, presents this story bolstered with the very-real facts as told by a fictional character. By using this approach the author effectively strips away the official story of Marilyn Monroe’s suicide which some (including me at this point) would argue was fiction presented as fact. And this novel is perfect timing, by the way, as this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death.

The novel begins with the information that something has gone horribly wrong in Ben Fitzgerald’s life, and then the story segues to the night of August 5, 1962 when Ben is rousted at 2:15 in the morning from bed at the cheap hotel where he rents a room. He’s told to go to 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood to the home of Marilyn Monroe as she’s committed suicide. Upon his arrival, Ben notes that the whole suicide story doesn’t fit the scenario:

Her fingernails were blue. The cause of death seemed obvious: an overdose. Except–Except the body was in the soldier’s position: legs straight, head down.

“I don’t have to tell you what that means, Doctor,” I say.

“Yes,” you say. “You do.”

“Well, it looked as though she’d been placed.”

“What?”

“Placed,” I say. “People who overdose don’t drift happily away. There are usually convulsions. Vomiting. They die contorted. And she was clutching the phone.”
“So?”

“A person dying of barbiturate overdose would not have died clutching a phone. She might have answered it. But a person dying of a barbiturate overdose would have gone limp before the convulsions began.”

Curiouser and curiouser, Marilyn’s housekeeper, doctor and psychiatrist have timelines concerning the events of that night, but within a few hours, they all change their stories. And then Ben discovers Marilyn’s diary, her “book of secrets” which for the record was never found–even though memos from both the FBI and the CIA acknowledged an awareness of its existence. He doesn’t grasp the significance of this find and in hindsight admits:

I had no reason to believe it would jeopardise my own life or that of my family. So you ask: If I had known, would I have just walked away?

Sniffing that there’s a lot wrong with Marilyn Monroe’s “suicide,” Ben takes the diary and begins doing a little freelance investigation of his own. Big mistake.

Some factors about the autopsy strike Ben as odd and inconsistent with suicide. Marilyn’s stomach was empty, so how did the overdose occur? He’s told in no uncertain terms that ‘s not his job to “speculate,” but his curiosity leads him into a nightmare existence of surveillance and threats–an existence in which Ben becomes increasingly paranoid and powerless.

The Empty Glass is a fast-paced read, full of short, sharp sentences that match the novel’s subject. The novel covers the weekend before Marilyn’s death when she travelled to the Cal-Neva resort, and also includes the JFK-Florence Kater-Pamela Turnure affair, along with fictional diary entries in which Marilyn Monroe mentions “the general.” The diary entries didn’t ring true for me–perhaps they just didn’t sound like Marilyn’s voice. On the down side, I doubt the novel will appeal to readers unless they have an interest in Marilyn Monroe. On the positive side, the author did some phenomenal work with the facts and effectively deconstructed the official story.

Wikipedia has a very interesting page devoted solely to the death of Marilyn Monroe. And here for the author’s web page for additional information about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe.

review copy from the publisher.

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29 Comments

Filed under Baker J.I., Fiction

29 responses to “The Empty Glass by J.I Baker

  1. I find it amazing is just how much Marilyn Monroe still captures peoples imagination.

    Whichever version or combinations of versions of events that we believe, I think in some ways the stories about Marilyn and other modern icons share a great deal in common with the older classical myths of Greece and Rome. We have real events and people, that are altered to lesser or greater degrees in order to tell a story or make a point. I think that this is in no way a bad thing.

    • There is not much chance that I would have read a book that focused on the death of MM–a nonfiction book that’s to say. Although I am currently reading a nonfiction book about MM that focuses on a different aspect of the star.
      I think it’s clever that the author chose to approach the book through a character who could have been at the scene, and I was willing to go along for the ride. As I said, I was shocked to find that the information here was readily available.

  2. Hmm, I’m uncomfortable with this. You know what I think about using so-called fiction to expose self-made theories/enquiries on a real case. As a reader, you never know when you cross the line between truth and invention.
    Add to this my reluctance to read about celebrities’ lives.

    How convenient to publish this for the 50th anniversary of her death. Do you think the publisher asked the writer to write a book about this? Or they kept the manuscript in the fridge until they could publish it at this important date?

    • On your last questions, I have no answer. I am reading another MM book at the moment, so timing may be part of the equation

      • Hi, Guy–thanks for the very perceptive review. Maybe the one that best reflects the impulse behind the writing of the thing–the particular fugue between fact and fiction that you illuminate. To answer Emma’s question: I had no idea when I started writing the book, about two years ago, that the anniversary of MM’s death was imminent. (In fact, I didn’t know about it until after I sold the book, believe it or not.) I’ve been trying to write a novel about the missing MM diary since I was about 19. And nothing ever “took” until, almost by accident, while trying to revise a previous (unpublished) novel, I stumbled down this particular rabbit hole. As I started doing research, I, too, was shocked by how many of the wild conspiracy “theories” were, in fact, facts….Just wanted to say that. And thanks again. BTW: There’s a lot more legit information about the case on my website, which isn’t just flogging the book (ha): emptyglassnovel.com.

        • Thanks Jim for the input. While reading the book, I spoke to several people about some of the strange inconsistencies about Marilyn’s death and they all wanted to know why this ‘wasn’t public.’ But, of course, it is. The kicker for me was her empty stomach but the levels of drugs in her blood. We know that studios sometimes messed w/death scenes (thinking Paul Bern here), so the change in the timing didn’t bother me that much. It was the drug delivery. Poor Marilyn.

          Perhaps the timing is right for people to be able to re-evaluate the case without the taint of ‘conspiracy theory.’

          • Yes, the empty stomach. And you can dismiss the time change, but there’s also the fact that tissue samples went missing, that crucial people in the case suddenly disappeared on vacation, that a junior person was uncharacteristically asked to perform the autopsy, that her body showed dual lividity, that the first responding officer on the scene found no water glass….it goes on and on. As I said, I’ve compiled a ton of this info on my website. I don’t mean to flog it, but it’s mostly informational, not promotional, so….I’ve also just posted a link to your review in the “blog” section. Thanks again.

            • Jim: I added a link to the website in the review. There are, apparently, hundreds of bars with variations of the name ‘the empty glass.’ I went looking for a website or blog before writing the review and couldn’t find it, so the link is there if anyone wants to read further.

              BTW, I’ve seen the photo of MM’s press secretary on the yacht with the kennedys a few days after MM’s death, and the vacations are well…both convenient and a nice perk if you can get it.

              • Sorry you went searching for the website–ugh…working on SEO. The URL is on the jacket of the hardcover, so I’m assuming you got an ARC. (Contact me through the site if you want a finished copy.) Anyway, thanks for the link–it’s in one of my replies, too.

                And, yeah, exactly, re: vacations. It’s like they say: You can’t make this s–t up. And I couldn’t even use all the wacko stuff that really happened in the book–like the weekend of June 2-3 and the stuffed tiger that sent MM into a tailspin on the last day of her life. Which is why I put the weird extra info on the website, specifically here:

                http://emptyglassnovel.com/#unsolved-mysteries

          • Thanks for answering my question. It’s hard not to think about it, given that the book market is rather money-driven.

  3. I used to have real Marilyn Monroe obsession and have read tons of books. It’s been a while since the suicide theory has been at least questioned.
    I saw the non-fiction book in your side bar and will get it as soon as it is available over here.
    I’d also finally like to read Joyce Carol Oates Blonde.
    I would probably also read The Empty Glass.
    I’ve the books with her writings and poetry. I’d say she was and still is highly underestimated.
    I’m sure timing has something to do with the fact that all of a sudden there are more publications on her again.
    I find almost every aspect about her and her life fascinating.
    I even watched a make-up tutorial by a very famous make-up artist which showed the way Marilyn Monroe was made up and why she looked so different from others on the screen.

  4. leroyhunter

    Fascinating stuff. I’m reading the Heydrich novel, HHhH, just now, and there’s a similar overlap between what’s historically true and accurate and what’s completely invented. Binet plays games with that, stating something as if a fact then telling you it’s invented, of saying he’s not sure if something’s true then proving it is. It should be really irritating but so far it’s not. The few occasions where I’ve thought “Hang on, that can’t be right” and looked stuff up have all backed him up on his versions of specific events. But he’s created this deliberate uncertainty around his account (plus doing things like inventing dialogues, then discussing how convincing or otherwise the results are) that is interesting.

    • Exactly: I knew just a few facts about the death of MM when I began the book, so when I started to read, I had no idea what was fact and what was fiction. I was astonished by what I read regarding the acknowledged facts of the case, and that’s what’s so clever about the approach this book takes: you take it as a fiction book, but then it dawns on you that much of it isn’t fiction at all. The widely accepted suicide is, in fact, built on some very doubtful evidence: fiction turned into fact–a dead body deemed to be a suicide that is not supported by the medical evidence. And this novel is a reversal of that: fact into fiction. Very clever stuff.

      • Can I just say, as the author (ha), that the whole fact-into-fiction reversal you mention, Guy, is amplified (or maybe, for some people, irritated) by the fact that the fictional narrator is constantly lying. So a) the nonfiction basis of the book–the Marilyn stuff–is 100% accurate, but b) it’s all being relayed by the unreliable fictitious narrator, who lies about everything else (meaning everything made up). Well, I found that whole contradictory dynamic interesting, as did my editor, who called the book a Rubik’s cube and–like the famed description of the CIA–a Hall of Mirrors. The vast reading public may have a problem with these layers, and I don’t blame it, but –for me– it was perversely fun. Which was the only reason I wrote it. And exactly why it was NOT (per the comment above) written cynically to publisher’s orders…..

        • leroyhunter

          Thanks for your replies here Jim. I don’t have a problem with the fact-fiction stuff (some do) but for me it’s more the self-consciousness or self-referentiality that could grate in Binet’s book, but like I said it doesn’t.

          Your book sounds very interesting, thanks for the detail about the narrator and his dynamic. I’ve put this on my wishlist so hope to get to it eventually.

        • I think it’s natural for people to wonder if the book’s release was timed for the anniversary (there’s also the Banner non fiction book and also a long-overdue DVD box set Marilyn: The Premier Collection coming out this month), but it’s great that you cleared that issue off the table. I had a suspicion that you’d been working on this for a long time-just the way everything was put together & digging through the facts and the myths must have taken years.

    • Thanks for the link Leroy. I’m about halfway through the book and am learning a new layer of information about Marilyn. I’ll have to hold a MM film festival when I’m done. Currently watching a 6 1/2 hour long version of Les Vampires: a 10 episode series from 1915.

      • leroyhunter

        *slaps forehead*
        Of course, I see the book in your sidebar, didn’t make the link. Sorry. Hopefully other visitors will find it interesting.

        Les Vampires is supposed to be great….I keep picking it up but not buying.

        • I bought my copy of Les Vampires but now I see that Kino is releasing a restored copy which would be well worth waiting for. If you like silent film, it’s lots of fun and rather well done. BTW it’s on youtube too if interested.

          The main character is a Paris reporter who is on the trail of the Vampire gang. In one episode, the gang capture him by luring him to his second storey window, throwing a noose-type rod device over his head and pulling him out of the window so he lands into a huge basket . It’s very entertaining. Beheadings, poisoned rings, sleeping gas, murders, disappearances, secret tunnels. It’s got the lot.

          • Guy, how if at all is LES VAMPIRES related to FANTOMAS?

            • Same director, both French serials focusing on criminal masterminds. If you like one, it’s a given you’d like the other. I’ve yet to see Judex but that’s coming up.

              • By the way, Guy, have you read any of Eugène Sue? In case you don’t know about him (forgive me if you do), he wrote in the 1800s and had huge bestsellers, among them THE MYSTERIES OF PARIS and THE WANDERING JEW. I think he’s sadly overlooked–and the vibe of these books is similar to the kind of stuff we’re discussing here, ie
                “Beheadings, poisoned rings, sleeping gas, murders, disappearances, secret tunnels.” I’ve only ever been able to find MYSTERIES in a terrible translation, but the old out-of-print Everyman copy of THE WANDERING JEW that I have is truly fantastic….

                • I’m a die-hard Balzac fan, and Sue’s name crops up in Balzac’s bio. I just downloaded the Mysteries of Paris and The WJ for the kindle (free) and hope to get to them soon. I hadn’t made the Sue-Les Vampires connection, but that’s interesting. Last night, I watched an episode and part of it involves storytelling set in the Napoleonic Campaign in Spain. It had a ring of Balzac to it. Good to know that Sue is engaging. That pushes it up the list. Although I may have the rotten translations….

                  • I’m a die-hard Balzac fan, too, and from what I understand he wrote a number of novels that aped the Sue “manner.” However, though I devoured the most famous of his novels (Eugenie Grandet, Cousin Bette, Lost Illusions, The Wild Ass’s Skin, Pere Goriot), I’ve found many of the rest of them fairly impenetrable–including Cousin Pons. Any recommendations, given the limited list above?

                    • If you haven’t read The Black Sheep, I would absolutely recommend that, and if you ever get a chance to watch the film version of Colonel Chabert, it’s on my favourite French film list

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