In some ways the book tells a story that is very familiar. Thus Marilyn Monroe is portrayed as an abused, confused girl from an orphanage with an insane mother who lives in an asylum. By a remarkable mixture of luck, co-incidence and the personal magnetism that the young girl possessed Marilyn Monroe rises to become the most successful movie star of her time. Subsequently she falls and eventually dies, the victim of drug abuse, self-hatred and a destructive life-style that left her few options.
Beyond this familiar characterization, Leaming suggests that Marilyn Monroe was in fact far more in control of her life than most biographers have given her due. Thus her rise to fame and subsequent crash to probably suicide was more within Monroe's own hands than people appreciated at the time or have seen ever since.
Leaming suggests that Monroe was in fact highly ambitious and knew how to construct an apparently irresistible persona that would both fascinate and intrigue the public. From her rendition of "Happy Birthday" for President John F Kennedy to her attempts at choosing exactly the right movie at the right time and even to her somewhat bizarre choices of husbands including the cerebral playwright Arthur Miller, Leaming argues that Monroe was far more in control of her life than appeared from the outside.
This control is especially seen in the long and complex negotiations with movie studies that are documented throughout the book. The fact that Monroe had a first-class business mind beyond the "dumb blonde" persona that she often portrayed has seldom been considered. It is, indeed, a fact about many Hollywood stars that is often ignored or downplayed. Leaming does not explore the apparent contradiction between this competitive, manipulative Monroe and the out-of-control drug addict who could not stand the natural process of aging and the loss of looks. This is a pity, as the two sides of Monroe sit uneasily besides one another without being really reconciled. Perhaps Leaming is suggesting that they cannot be explained: they merely exist.
This portrayal of Marilyn Monroe sits somewhat uneasily with the overall pessimistic tone of the book as the star's life is seen as on a downward spiral from birth, despite the wealth and fame that she eventually achieved. If Monroe was in control of her life, she apparently sought to destroy herself within Leaming's portrayal. The final moments of her life are shown to be a mixture of accident and deliberation. According to Leaming, Marilyn Monroe may have taken her final overdose because her psychiatrist was going out to dinner and would not talk to her until the next day. Monroe felt abandoned and thus killed herself.
To conclude, Leaming brings a new perspective and new material to one of the most studied and written about figures in American cultural history. She portrays the culture that Monroe lived within in a provocative manner, showing that the iconic playwright (and Monroe's one-time husband) was involved in a bizarre rivalry with every other male in her life. She shows that Monroe tried to control her life in a manner that has seldom been explored, but that this attempt was ultimately doomed because of an insane streak that Monroe probably inherited from her mother. Similar to many stars of her time, Marilyn Monroe was doomed to a relatively young, pathetic death through a drug overdose. But paradoxically, it was this death that assured her