Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures
A Bookpage Best Books of 2012 pick
The enchanting story of a midwestern girl who escapes a family tragedy and is remade as a movie star during Hollywood’s golden age.
In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child¹s game of pretend.
While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura’s great love; she becomes an Academy Award-winning actress—and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio-system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself.
Ambitious and richly imagined, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is as intimate—and as bigger-than-life—as the great films of the golden age of Hollywood. Written with warmth and verve, it confirms Emma Straub’s reputation as one of the most exciting new talents in fiction.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
Wheee! This is my first Goodreads "First Reads" giveaway win! CAUTION: The review below contains some mild spoilers. August 12, 2012 Though I'm not quite halfway through the book, I have much to say, so I'll start my comments here. This is hard for me, because I really want to like this book, and I feel that Emma Straub is an author I want to encourage, but I have some issues with the novel so far. For me, the book is a little slow to get going. I would have started the book with the second chapter, when Elsa/Laura arrives in Hollywood, with the preceding material either in a shorter introductory piece or presented as a flashback. The story wouldn't lose much if it came in on Elsa/Laura's relationship with her first husband mid-stream. Elsa/Laura's relationships in general are not particularly well drawn, and her relationship with her first husband seems like a slight plot device. More could be done with it, but if Gordon's role is merely to get her out of Wisconsin and father her first two children, the reader doesn't miss much if we meet him as they're arriving in California. Few characters feel fleshed out, and dialogue is scant. One potentially interesting character, Josephine, says almost nothing and doesn't write letters to Laura after Laura moves to Hollywood. While this seems like a part of Josephine's character, it also feels like a hole--like maybe it's convenient to maintain her silence because the author isn't able to give her words. I've always been interested in early Hollywood and the star/studio system, and over the years I've read biographies of Garbo, Louise Brooks, Bette Davis, and screenwriter Frances Marion. Each of these biographies reveals a lot about the industry from its beginnings through mid-century, and each illustrates how much hard work and personal sacrifice it took for these women to advance their careers. Many women in the film industry during this era did marry and have children, but--unless they were already major stars, and even sometimes if they were well established--in many cases those events marked the end of their careers. Few aspiring actresses arrived in Hollywood already married, and even fewer were able to launch their careers when they already had young children. That Laura's career starts out this way is very unusual, and I think it's enough of an oddity that more needs to be made of it. The reader is told that Laura loves acting, that it's who she is, but we don't really see it. Laura's success seems to fall into her lap; it doesn't seem like the result of years of single-minded effort. At one point Laura (or is it the author?) suggests that “Every actor and actress on the lot would have worked for free,” but established stars who devoted their lives to working in films had no intention of doing so for free (see Davis, Garbo, and others). The fantasy of just somehow becoming a major star in Hollywood and living a glamorous life dominates the early part of the book. Descriptive passages are devoted to the trappings of this glamorous life--clothes, cars, houses. This is not exactly a historical novel with fastidious attention to historical accuracy, and that's okay, but the number of things that feel historically questionable does grate after a while. Some examples: 1) For Gordon to complain about his first contract makes him (or perhaps the author?) seem naïve. To even get a first contract, even as a bit player, was a big deal. The terms of his contract sound like pretty standard studio fare for the time. An actor was under a studio’s control almost as sports stars today are under a team’s control—except perhaps moreso because of the demands a studio could make on an actor’s personal life choices. 2) At the Academy Awards banquet, Laura notes that her father has seen each of the six films she’s made. If Laura went under contract in 1939, it’s unlikely that she would have made only six films in nine years. If Laura receives special treatment because she’s married to a studio head, it’s worth making that point. That Laura wins the Oscar the first...
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
I love studio-era Hollywood so much that I was sure I would love this book, (I really wanted to!)but I just didn't. I can't imagine the author really loves the Hollywood of then because the book and its characters and descriptions of the movies are SO FLAT! I almost never think I could write the book better than the author who actually took the time to write it, but I think I could write the story of a studio-era actress a million times better than Emma Straub. So maybe I will.