Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin
Born and raised in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin, Elsa Emerson has a unique childhood surrounded by the thespians who flock in every summer to perform plays in her father’s playhouse, the family’s converted barn. Elsa loves her father’s theater and the glamorous actors who populate it, indeed, she cannot imagine ever wanting to leave. Things change when Elsa was nine, after her sister Hildy’s affair with a philandering actor forever changes their family dynamic. By the time Elsa is seventeen, she is starring in her father’s plays and planning to flee Door County for Hollywood where, before long, she would go from blonde to brunette and from Elsa Emerson to Laura Lamont.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a fascinating romp through old Hollywood. Straub beautifully captures the tension between the glamor and the uncertainty and loneliness. Laura’s first husband, the man who brings her to California from Wisconsin, goes from having a contract at a big studio to an addict in less time than one might expect, and Laura’s life also has setbacks that she never expected.
If Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures was only a look at old Hollywood, it would still be worth reading, but Straub’s novel is deeper and more psychological than that, as much about family as it is about film. Of particular importance to Elsa/Laura is the bond of sisterhood and the ramifications of what happened with Hildy in Elsa’s youth:
Sometimes Laura thought of herself as having had three sisters: Josephine, Hildy, and Elsa, with Josephine the only survivor of their shared childhood. -p. 217
Straub also explores identity, the difference between who we have been in the past and the way we reinvent ourselves for our present and future, as is evidenced in Laura’s thoughts about her second marriage, the first she entered into as Laura Lamont instead of Elsa Emerson:
When she looked at the photos later, Laura decided it was reasonable to think of it as her first wedding, because the previous one had been someone else. -p. 87
Both Straub’s characters and her writing are charming, nearly irresistible. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a fabulous read, one you won’t want to put down. Highly recommended.
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