“Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” by Emma Straub / Tuesday, October 23, 2012 / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub.

"Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures" by Emma Straub

A star is born.

Why Clay Stafford chose this book:

This novel takes me back in time. Maybe it is my own personal past experiences in summer stock, but I was immediately pulled into the setting of “Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” by Emma Straub. I felt the barn, the family, the summer camp, the carefree life of the young. And the egos. “No one in the theater liked to be around people who were better-looking than they were.” Oh, yes. I recognized the egos.

The story is told from the point of view of Elsa who later becomes Laura Lamont. “Hildegard got to be Hildy, but Elsa only got to be Else, as in Someone Else, a human afterthought.” That is how Elsa’s life starts out: the youngest, the overlooked. A chance suggestion puts her onstage, however. Elsa learns “there was power in pretend.” And she uses it throughout the rest of her career.

The novel is full of great lines. If you’ve spent any time in Hollywood, you’ll recognize the personality types. It is about so many actors and actresses I know who have difficulty separating the reality of a role from the reality of…well…reality. The stretching of the truth. As an ex-actor, some of it is downright painful to read especially the character arc relating to the man she left Wisconsin with. I feel for these poor characters. Even Elsa has a bit of the non-reality to start: “She was going to step off the bus into the waiting arms of the world.”

Hollywood is near a collective main character itself in this novel. You get an introduction to Method Acting, what goes on during movie-making (including the endless waiting), the lives influenced by movie successes and movie flops, the jealousies, and – if you are Hollywood history savvy – you might recognize what could be identifiable composite characters under a different name: Rock Hudson, Jack Warner, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Louis B. Mayer, Lucille Ball. And, of course, there is Irving Green, the Hollywood Boy Wonder. “Irving Green had an idea every thirty-five seconds.” It’s not difficult to see the personage of Irving Green to be a representation of Irving Thalberg.

“Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” is one woman’s lifetime saga with exhilarating peaks and painful valleys within the ever-changing evolution of Hollywood itself. If a reader finds the main character’s choices a bit mercurial at times, it is probably because same reader has never dated an actress. The plot is straightforward and Straub attempts to cover a lot of ground in the 300 or so pages. And, not giving anything away, the story goes full circle. “Was it possible that she’d finally gotten old, when she had always been the youngest?” Old Hollywood was a grand and glorious place. I can see what attracted Straub to the subject.

From Amazon:

“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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Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

– Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville