...a captivating look at famed actress Marilyn Monroe’s escape from Los Angeles and rebirth in New York, far from Hollywood’s spotlight ... Winder is a gifted writer and Monroe a fascinating, complex subject; this book will prove nearly impossible to put down for the actress’s many fans.
Winder effectively stops time and keeps readers drifting through a montage of Monroe’s ’55 datebook. Relying on accounts of those who made up Monroe’s 'blonde orbit,' Winder sometimes delves too deeply into these peripheral lives. Still, this sympathetic portrayal of a brilliant artist who was dying to be taken seriously is full of quotes, anecdotes, and impressions that will please the many who wish they knew her.
Rarely has a book about Marilyn Monroe been more maddening than Elizabeth Winder’s Marilyn in Manhattan...Winder has sloppily crafted an answer to suit her own question ... Most of her anecdotes are either unattributed or ascribed to Kindle editions of recent books, with no page numbers given. Movie magazines from the 1950s are taken seriously ... The bulk of what’s here is a strangely culled, often repetitive set of anecdotes from only a few easily obtainable books that most Marilyn fans probably know about ... [all] hot air and specious detail.
Was Monroe’s time in New York really a 'year of joy,' as the book’s subtitle has it? Therapy five times a week as required by Strasberg doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs ... Throughout her biography Ms. Winder stresses that Monroe was an intense reader. Why, even at the beach, she was improving her mind. 'She’d throw down her towel and sink into Ulysses.' The rest of us huddle under our umbrellas with books like this one and cringe.
What’s irresistible about this new one, though, is that it fits into my own favourite subspecies of biography: it takes a microscopic look at just one transformative moment in a life, extrapolating truths about everything that brought Marilyn to this juncture, and foreshadowing what might come. A flourishing form of late, it joins other books that I consider staples ... Marilyn in Manhattan works especially well as a Gladwellian tipping point because it marks the point when the beauty — 27 then, and on a stardom high — broke her contract with her studio and blew her pop stand in L.A.
The market for this book may be slender. After all, most Americans who remember Monroe and her movies are drawing Social Security checks. Others will roll their eyes at the author’s identification of characters by their first names — a confusing element in a tale with a cast big enough for one of Cecil B. DeMille’s epics. And some readers may roll their eyes at Winder’s insistence on recounting Monroe’s wardrobe, day in and day out.
The book attempts, Winder explains, 'to show the real, flesh and blood Marilyn — a strong, savvy woman who took control of her life.' Except that ultimately she didn’t, and even the book’s subtitle is fraught: Monroe’s 'year of joy' was also marked by sustained pill-popping and a passionate but subservient relationship with then-married Arthur Miller, who constantly undermined her. Winder is at her best when detailing Monroe’s constant search for surrogate families...But those insights are often undermined by a surfeit of name-dropping and detailed emphasis on food and outfits. At its worst, this makes Marilyn in Manhattan read like the literary equivalent of a celebrity Instagram feed ... In the end, Marilyn in Manhattan never makes clear why Monroe had no choice but to be her doomed self. Powerlessness is uncool today, but in her quest to retroactively impart agency to her subject, Winder leaves no room for the tragedy at the center of Monroe’s life.
With a storybook cadence and impressive description, Winder writes of this time in Monroe’s erratic life as an empowering, fulfilling episode, an opportunity to spread her creative wings amid a caged life fraught with the kind of grueling career pressures and studio demands that necessitated medicating herself to relieve chronic insomnia ... Winder doesn’t pretend to unravel the many mysteries of Monroe, but she respectfully and quite thoughtfully salutes her East Coast tenure as she reveled for an instant in the sparkling possibilities of life in the Big Apple. A touching, textured, and compellingly written slice of the iconic actress’s life.