To his credit and to our relief, British journalist Andrew Morton doesn’t waste any breath trying to pour Monica Lewinsky into the same misunderstood-woman-with-poor- body-image-and-caddish-consort mold with which he reinvented the image of the Princess of Wales in Diana: Her True Story. He knows better than to sell the former White House intern as Diana’s American sister in adversity. Lewinsky isn’t emblematic of Young Women With Low Self-Esteem Today: She’s just a messed-up girl who met her match in an equally messed-up older man who happens to be the leader of the free world.
But Morton does do something special for his American friend in Monica’s Story: He stands up for her like a protective big brother. He listens to his tormented subject’s account of a really lousy relationship and suggests themes to explain how life went so awfully awry for her. One biggie is that the ”saga has spotlighted the underlying misogyny that still permeates American life…. Clinton the adulterer and liar is a forgiven man; Monica Lewinsky the temptress is a scorned woman…. What is far worse, however, she has committed the greatest sin of all: she is overweight.” Another is that Monica is ”possessed of a high sense of entitlement but a low sense of self-worth.”
Nearly all the facts, after all, are old. And even those that are new — i.e., Monica had an affair with an older man in the Pentagon, during which she became pregnant and had an abortion — are only lightly discussed. (Some women, may I point out, would be more distraught over the decision to terminate a pregnancy than about planning a future with a guy who can have sex only — and not to ”completion” — in the office bathroom.) But Morton works energetically to position the villains for maximum jeering. Linda Tripp’s treachery seems all the more pathetic knowing that when Monica was about to have the semen-stained Gap dress dry-cleaned so she could wear it again, Tripp told her ”friend” that she ”looked really fat in the dress, and suggested she wear something else.”
Marcia Lewis and Debra Finerman, Monica’s enabling mother and aunt, are drawn with a withering neutrality. ”If we had been more sophisticated the alarm bells would have gone off,” says Finerman. ”We would have said to Monica, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to stop this affair right now’… That place is dripping with evil.” (Oh, that’s why she should stop servicing the President?) Monica’s first lawyer, William Ginsburg, is skewered as a legal disaster. And the utter cravenness of Monica’s first married lover, Andy Bleiler, is shown proper disgust.
In its own hapless way, the fluctuating readability of Monica’s Story reflects the course of public interest in the scandal. Sharp details about the young woman’s glued-together life lose their edge as the book bogs down in minutiae, making Morton’s jabs of prickly British humor welcome. He notes that ”while [the President] managed to resist discussing [Lewinsky’s] ideas on education reform…he did tell her that…he had bought her a present.”
My favorite, though, is a beaut that makes an even better epigraph than the quote from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (”All these — all the meanness and agony without end, I sitting look out upon…”) that opens this strange item of publishing ephemera. During intimate chat, Morton says, the couple discussed ”Monica’s unhappy relationship with Andy Bleiler. ‘He’s such a jerk,’ the President opined.” B-