Old Hollywood. Midwesterner reinvents herself and becomes famous. I thought that Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub had a lot of promise.
Elsa Emerson lives in Door County, Wisconsin in the 1920s. She is much younger than her two sisters and idolizes Hildy, beautiful and the star of the family's playhouse. Every summer actors are brought in to put on various plays for the people of Door County. Elsa, just eight, is backstage watching all that happens around her, including an affair between Hildy and the leading man. Elsa is also the one to find out when Hildy's affair ends horribly.
When Elsa becomes a star in her own right as a teenager, she marries the first boy she can and takes off to Hollywood with him. At first, he gets work and she doesn't, staying home to raise their daughter. Then, a chance encounter with one of the studio executives gives her a new name, "Laura Lamont," and her big break. From there, Laura's career skyrockets, and then flatlines. The book follows the ups and downs of Hollywood, along with the ups and downs of Laura's career and personal life.
There's a lot to love about this book. It's a quick read, with a lot of ambiance going for it. A lot of the characters in the book are based on real actors from Hollywood's glitz age, and it is fun to figure out who's who. Laura also gives us brief glimpses into the Hollywood machine, showing how hair color and a new name can change a woman's life, as was so often the case.
The character of Laura Lamont is loosely based on the life of Jennifer Jones, who, like Laura, married a bigwig in the movies. Also like Laura, she only won one Academy Award, very early in her career. There are other similarities between the two as well. Along with Jones as the inspiration, there's also characters resembling Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney.
As a lover of classic films, I was excited to get into the head of one of those starlets. However, I felt the novel fell short in a lot of ways. The book did not go into too much detail about Hollywood, and it didn't go into great detail about any character either. Even Laura, who was our main character, seemed to fall short in the way of description. I did not feel like I knew her well enough at the end of the book. Her motivations and goals were not clear from the beginning and it skewed the way I read the book. The story of Midwestern girl goes to Hollywood is a relatively common one, so to me, it really needs to stand out in order to be different from the rest. Laura Lamont was a decent read, but it didn't really stand out to me.
If you enjoy tales of Old Hollywood, try some of these suggestions:
-The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
-The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger
-Starstruck by Rachel Shukert