The Secret Letters
of Marilyn Monroe
and Jacqueline Kennedy
Thomas Dunne Books
Buy This Book
"A more "juicier" premise for a novel probably doesn't exist . . ."
". . . readers may not enjoy the vilification of these two women."
". . . may ultimately come away from this novel feeling dissatisfied . . ."
A more "juicier" premise for a novel probably doesn''t exist than Wendy Leigh''s The Secret Letters. What could possibly top delving into a supposed decade-long, clandestine correspondence between two of the biggest American icons of the twentieth century? Both Jackie and Marilyn will be forever linked to JFK, a man whose womanizing reputation still makes tabloid newspaper headlines today, forty years after his assassination.
Unfortunately, it is this very fact that undermines the integrity of the work. By fictionalizing the inner demons of two of the world''s most beloved women, journalist Leigh has zapped the unfolding drama of all its compassion. Right or wrong, the American public will always view Jacqueline Kennedy as the long-suffering wife of a powerful man who couldn''t keep his pants zipped, ultimately leaving her a widow with two young children to raise on her own. Marilyn Monroe will always be in our collective imagination a naïve, abused woman-child who found the only way she could survive was by selling her sexuality on the screen–a sad creature to be pitied, not despised. Historical accuracy or not, some readers may not enjoy the vilification of these two women.
Leigh''s prose is strong, but her none too subtle attempts at having her two characters perform a type of "self-analysis" through their letter writing doesn''t quite ring true. How many of us quote Freud at length in our personal letters? Leigh has Marilyn Monroe doing so as she openly lies about her relationship with Jack. In return, Jackie paints herself as a cold, love-withholding bitch who consciously drives her husband into the arms of other women in order to prove she can survive his betrayals, unlike her own mother who divorced Jackie''s father for his infidelity.
If The Secret Letters was a story about two "unknowns" who happened to be the wife and the mistress of an influential man, some of the self-recriminations and trickery might be entertaining. Alas, in this context it is not. Fans of both Monroe and Jackie O. may ultimately come away from this novel feeling dissatisfied for having helped sully the memory of their all-too-human idols.
Reviewer: Cindy Appel