Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: September 4th 2012
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Historical
From an idyllic childhood near the lakes of Wisconsin to the glamour of Hollywood’s studio days, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures traces Elsa Emerson’s journey to becoming Laura Lamont.Elsa’s family is in the theater business, running a small company in Door County, Wisconsin. The summer she is nine her father is convinced to give her a walk-on part in a play and
For Elsa, there was no other option after that moment—she saw her future as clearly as she saw the water of Green Bay. Even if she wasn’t happy on the inside, the outside could be something else entirely. There was always another character to play.
Sadly, this belief is tested when her older sister, Hildy, the one she adores for her volatility and Nordic blonde beauty, kills herself that same summer. The event calls to an end the family’s life as they knew it and for Elsa, an end to her childhood. Her love of acting is the only thing that never changes and the summer she turns seventeen she marries a fellow actor, and they leave to follow their dreams in Hollywood. There Elsa’s dreams are set aside as her husband, Gordon, becomes a contract player at one of the big studios. Instead of acting, Elsa finds herself waiting on Gordon and raising the two daughters she gives birth to in rapid succession. Her dreams seem to have stalled until she meets one of the studio heads at a party who recognizes in her, the star she sees in herself. Like any good Hollywood tale her rise to successful actress is meteoric. The fairytale surface is complemented by her personal life resolving itself almost as easily and, in short order, the new Laura Lamont seems to have everything she ever wanted.
This debut novel has been garnering advance accolades from a wide variety of sources. Emma Straub captures the co-dependent nature of the 1930s studio system of movie-making where the studio owned the stars, both cosseting and providing for their every need but also controlling their professional fate. The stars were both chattel, with no say in their own career, and titans, whose movies and antics could make or break a studio. Much like the movies themselves, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures follows the appropriate arc of highs and lows, dram and resolution. What distinguishes the book are Straub’s forays into Laura’s mind, the way her thoughts are often bifurcated between her life as Elsa and her life as Laura.
There were only a handful of moments Laura could think of, in the span of her entire life, when she was unable to identify the seam in between what she felt and what she said or did, moments during which all of the selves that she’d ever been lined up perfectly, with no cracks in between.
As Laura’s star starts to fade and her personal life crumbles Straub’s sensitive prose goes beyond the Hollywood hype and glitter and reveals what is often left behind in the pursuit of dreams.
There were many things that Laura missed about working regularly, so many things that she could hardly do anything else all day long but miss parts of her life that were gone.
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