BOOK BEAT: “Songs of Three Islands,” By Millicent Monks, A Memoir; Finding ‘Peace’ Through Public Humiliation?

The Monks Home on Cape Elizabeth

By Carol McCracken (Post # 579)

Millicent Monks’ new memoir is beautifully penned. It’s also a controversial look at her life in the midst of wealth, power and mental illness. Her island hopping life serves as a unique background to tell her story as a member of three wealthy families: The Carnegies, the Spragues and the Monks. Each family has its own island – from down east Maine to Georgia – where their respective stories unfold; “dark sides” included. Curiously, the Sprague name never surfaces when she speaks of the Monks’ gated-home on Cape Elizabeth. Cape Elizabeth is where many other Spragues live as well.

That the author did not mention the Sprague family by name is curious because her father was a Sprague – P. Shaw Sprague. A despicable for whom no one has a good word, Shaw was well on his way to destroying the family business started by his father before it was sold to Bobby Monks, husband of the author. The author’s mother was Lucy Carnegie, the granddaughter of Tom Carnegie. And, – Tom was the brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie, also known for his philanthropy. (Carnegie Hall in NYC.) Tom died at 42 leaving his widow and many children a modest income on which to live. Monks focuses on her traumatic relationship with her mother, Lucy, accusing her of mental illness.

Sandra Monks, daughter of the author and her husband, Bobby, sees it differently. “There is no evidence of mental illness in the Carnegie family,” she said recently in a telephone interview from her home. “They were spoiled and privileged,” she said, “but not mentally ill.” Sandra takes her own share of excessive hard knocks from her mother’s free-flowing pen that are hard to justify. Sandra enjoyed a close relationship with her grandmother, Lucy, as she tells it and so does Monks in the memoir.

Monks’ memoir is beautifully written. Her description of nature at the three family islands are enthralling and envied by MHN.com. Unfortunately, her writing is inconsistent. When she writes of Sandra (not her real name), it is anything but enthralling and to be envied. It’s almost like the book was written by two different people. Two different voices emerge. But no one would diagnose her with mental illness because of that.

Monks attended the New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, where her goal of becoming an opera singer was encouraged. But her dreams were crushed and nothing ever took its place when she developed throat problems that did not allow her to continue on that path. Clearly, a multi-talented artist, who is also self-absorbed. It took not only a talented women to write this memoir, but also a strong one. It took courage to put herself out there and risk the inevitable criticism that would follow from writing about wealth, power and mental illness. Last month she was interviewed by the “New York Times” and more recently by the “Portland Press Herald.” However, it did not appear that either interviewer had read her memoir. MHN.com tried to reach Monks, but the couple is out of the country until the end of this month according to Monks’ assistant.

Toward the end of the memoir, Monks, 76, discloses that she was forced to end her roughly fifty year relationship with her daughter because it was so painful and difficult for her to continue. That was probably about five years ago. Sandra confirmed that – saying that they communicate with each other exclusively through their respective attorneys. (Her father is an attorney.) She acknowledged that she asked former Senator George Mitchell, a family friend, to intervene on her behalf with her parents over financial matters. The author says she has found peace. This is peace?!

When Monks slithers back to Cape Elizabeth from abroad, hopefully she will turn her future creative projects into something constructive and less destructive to all of her family members; past and present. Publicly flogging and humiliating her daughter who does not enjoy carte blanche access to the press as does Monks, is despicable. She still can find ways to communicate with her daughter, even if not by calling her on the phone.

editor’s note: For more information on Bobby Monks, please read: “A Traitor to His Class,” by Hilary Rosenberg. 1999.