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.
In her debut novel (after her early-2012 story collection, Other People We Married), Straub weaves together snapshots of the long, large life of Elsa Emerson, the youngest daughter in a family of quintessentially blonde, corn-fed Midwestern sisters living in Door County, Wis. In the late 1920s, the family runs a summer playhouse, and Elsa's first role, as a flower girl in Come Home, My Angel, coincides with a family tragedy. These two events shape her passion for acting and her desire to slip into a different character than that of the good, homespun girl she is. At 17, a few years before WWII, she moves to Los Angeles and finds Hollywood the perfect stage for her metamorphosis into Laura Lamont, a dark-haired, serious-eyed starlet who carries with her an air of mystery and gravity completely apart from her idyllic Midwestern upbringing. Written in a removed prose, Straub brings Elsa to life with the detached analysis of an actor examining a character, exemplifying Elsa's own remote relationship to her identity. Through marriages, births, deaths, and career upheavals, Elsa and Laura coexist, sometimes uneasily until Elsa learns to reconcile her two selves. An engaging epic of a life that captures the bittersweetness of growing up, leaving home, and finding it again.