- Posted by Johanna on June 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Emma Straub
- PUBLISHER: Riverhead; $16 US
Coming out this week in paperback is Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, a novel about a Wisconsin girl who makes it big in Hollywood in the early 1940s.
Elsa Emerson’s father runs the Door County Playhouse, a country summer theater, and she seems born to be an actress. After a family tragedy, Elsa runs away to California with one of the actors, where she has two children, has her name changed to the more glamorous Laura Lamont, and gets discovered.
Most of the characters are thinly disguised or strongly reminiscent of the famous, from the medically impaired boy wonder producer she marries (Irving Thalberg) to her best friend, a redheaded comedienne who makes it big in an early sitcom about her domestic life. I often found them more interesting than the title character. Laura is almost an observer of her own life, with things happening to her instead of her choosing to make them happen. She’s very traditional, unable to fully take care of herself and paying more attention to her kids than anything else. Family, from her left-behind parents and sister, to her troubled son, takes first place throughout this book, with Laura’s transformation a metaphor for how women alter themselves to be what their loved ones need or want.
As life does, events move more quickly as Laura ages and she’s no longer a movie star. I thought there could have been a lot more covered about her second half, including how she makes some of the career jumps she does and her feelings about shaking addiction. Near the end of the book, we hear her thinking about how much she wants to get back to the stage, but this deep artistic desire appears late and surprised me. If that theme had been more apparent during the earlier phase of the career, she would have seemed a better-rounded protagonist.
I enjoyed reading about what it might have been like to live in early Hollywood through such evocative language and well-chosen details. The events and characters here won’t stick with me, but they made for escapism while I was reading. Their choices and the events they live through are comfortable to anyone familiar with celebrity and history. (The publisher provided a review copy.)