July 08, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Marilyn Monroe looked lovely in her casket only because half sister Berniece worried about Marilyn’s recent and unattractive weight loss, scavenged ”safety pins, a sheet, and several garments of various sizes and thicknesses — to be used in making the dress conform to Marilyn’s normal body shape.” The writer of My Sister Marilyn: A Memoir of Marilyn Monroe, Berniece’s daughter Mona Rae Miracle, mingles her own and Berniece’s memories of their famous relative: how Marilyn gave Berniece makeup lessons, how Marilyn’s wedding gown became Mona Rae’s party dress, and how Marilyn and Berniece’s mentally ill mother became an angry and difficult burden. Too bad Mona Rae squashes Berniece’s Kentucky twang into third-person, bizarrely present tense, turgid prose (when Berniece once makes a face at her mother, Berniece’s ”cheeks balloon, and a stream of breath flows slowly through her lips”). But look for good literature somewhere else; this portrait of Marilyn is irreplaceable. B

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