Picks and Pans Review: My Sister Marilyn

updated 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/06/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Berniece Baker Miracle and Mona Rae Miracle

I want to let Marilyn's fans see the human Marilyn behind the public image, to show this special woman as we knew her," writes Marilyn Monroe's half sister Berniece in this simple but affecting memoir, coauthored by her daughter. Miracle and Monroe were born seven years apart to Gladys Baker. Berniece, now 74, was raised by her father, Jasper, in Middlesboro, Ky., while Norma Jeane (later Marilyn), the daughter of one Martin E. Mortensen, grew up in Los Angeles with her mother's friends, Grace and Doc Goddard, after the mentally ill Baker was institutionalized in the mid-1930s. When Berniece was 19 and married, she learned she had a sister in a rambling letter from her mother.

This is not a book of secrets but of warm hugs and poignant family photographs. Berniece would have us believe that she became intimately connected to Marilyn, but the very story she tells suggests that Monroe was truly close to no one.

Still Berniece tries to explode whatever myths she can. She writes that Marilyn was not sexually assaulted as a child, as has been reported elsewhere, that Monroe did not have an affair with actor Yves Montand (other celebrated liaisons are not addressed) and that her half sibling was not a "dumb blonde" (her breathy voice was just a put-on). Ultimately, though, the public image of Monroe remains intact—a child-woman consumed by her image and exploited by those closest to her. In no way a definitive portrait, My Sister Marilyn adds one more dimension to the myth of an American icon. (Algonquin, $19.95)

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