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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 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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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 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.

30 review for Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures

  1. 5 out of 5

    Oriana

    This is all Donna Tartt's fault. As with The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, I wish I wish I wish I'd read this book before I read The Goldfinch. Seriously you guys, that fucking book is so good that it makes everything else seem like bullshit. I mean, I was excited about this book for a long time! Emma Straub is kind of a big deal in the Brooklyn lit scene. She is universally known for being really nice and also very talented, and I don't recall hearing anything bad about this book at all. I definit This is all Donna Tartt's fault. As with The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, I wish I wish I wish I'd read this book before I read The Goldfinch. Seriously you guys, that fucking book is so good that it makes everything else seem like bullshit. I mean, I was excited about this book for a long time! Emma Straub is kind of a big deal in the Brooklyn lit scene. She is universally known for being really nice and also very talented, and I don't recall hearing anything bad about this book at all. I definitely don't want to be the first to rag on the nicest member of the Bk litterati, so I won't. Because look, this was an enjoyable book. It was a good story, well told; the characters were believable, the pacing was careful, the language was engaging, the plot was realistic and believable (so much so, in fact, that at times it felt a bit cliché). All just fine! The book covers about forty years in the life of the titular Laura, a small-town girl who goes to Hollywood to be a big star in the '40s. She's pregnant by 17, wins an Academy Award by like 25, is a widow addicted to painkillers by her 40s, and is on Broadway in her 60s. She reinvents herself again and again, discovering new depths of strength within herself time after time, even when she's completely certain all her reserves have been exhausted. So yeah, all fine. But like if books were bread, this one would be a sturdy, well-made biscuit, full of fine-ground organic flour -- a good solid effort, one that keeps you nourished and is far better than the myriad gross Wonder Bread loaves full of chemicals. And that would be so great! Except that a few weeks ago you ate the goddamn Goldfinch, which was this deeply complex multi-layered marble bread, with eleventy billion different spices and flourishes, which has just raised the goddamn bread bar forever, and all the things you used to think were top of the line are now merely fine efforts. Or something. Fuck.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

    I made the mistake of thinking Laura Lamont was some lesser-known film star with whom I wasn't familiar. Turns out she came straight from Emma Straub's imagination. The author did a lot of research about the golden age of Hollywood, and she put great care into the development of her story. Sorry to say, without any actual Hollywood touchstones, there's not enough stardust to keep it interesting. The novel is rather bland and lacks the tang of reality. Even the film studios, execs, and names of o I made the mistake of thinking Laura Lamont was some lesser-known film star with whom I wasn't familiar. Turns out she came straight from Emma Straub's imagination. The author did a lot of research about the golden age of Hollywood, and she put great care into the development of her story. Sorry to say, without any actual Hollywood touchstones, there's not enough stardust to keep it interesting. The novel is rather bland and lacks the tang of reality. Even the film studios, execs, and names of other film stars are made up. You can guess who some of them are based on, but without real names and places, it just doesn't feel authentic. For the character of Laura Lamont, Emma Straub has cobbled together a composite portrait from events that could apply to a variety of real starlets from the era. Laura is a generic example of the lives of small-town girls who made it big in Hollywood and were turned into commodities by the studios. Elsa Emerson of Door County, Wisconsin goes to Hollywood, gets discovered, and is made over into the new persona of Laura Lamont. Her star shines brightly and briefly, then fizzles, and her life goes downhill from there. What I found most interesting was the way actors and actresses were essentially owned by the studios back in the heyday of film-star mystique. If you were under contract, they controlled every aspect of your life and cultivated an image you were required to maintain. If an actress had a baby, she wasn't allowed to be seen again in public until she'd regained her pre-pregnancy figure. All details of your private life were engineered by the studio to fit the biography they had created for you. If they saw fit, they'd rewrite your entire life story. The story begins with some promise, but becomes too devoted to the domestic angle of Laura Lamont's life. As such it conveys little of the glitter and scandal of Hollywood in the old days.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Candace Cobb

    I had such great hopes for this book. I heard Emma Straub on NPR talking about the book, realized she was Peter Straub's daughter (who doesn't love Peter Straub??), and I liked the subject matter. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations. The book is told soley through the point of view of the main character, Laura Lamont, who is one of the most vapid characters ever written. Life rolls over her, and she just let's it happen, over and over again. She is completely inactive. The only mo I had such great hopes for this book. I heard Emma Straub on NPR talking about the book, realized she was Peter Straub's daughter (who doesn't love Peter Straub??), and I liked the subject matter. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations. The book is told soley through the point of view of the main character, Laura Lamont, who is one of the most vapid characters ever written. Life rolls over her, and she just let's it happen, over and over again. She is completely inactive. The only moment of action she takes happens in the first few chapters of the book, and then there are simply a long series of events that happen to her, until finally and at long last, the book ends. The characters around Laura were so much more interesting than Laura herself was - I really wish Ms. Straub hadn't tried so hard to encompass Laura's entire life (which really felt like a high-speed video at times, as she tried to fit it into the allotted pages) and gave us more insight into some of the other characters, and how they see Laura. It might have rounded out the character more.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub is a 2012 Riverhead publication. This book made it onto a list of novels written around the glamour of old Hollywood, and since I love reading about Hollywood's hey day, I thought I’d check it out. This is the story of Elsa Emerson, a young woman from Wisconsin, who is bitten by the acting bug at an early age. Her family suffers a tremendous loss, but Elsa, with the blessing of her father, sets off for Hollywood chasing that elusive dream of fame an Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub is a 2012 Riverhead publication. This book made it onto a list of novels written around the glamour of old Hollywood, and since I love reading about Hollywood's hey day, I thought I’d check it out. This is the story of Elsa Emerson, a young woman from Wisconsin, who is bitten by the acting bug at an early age. Her family suffers a tremendous loss, but Elsa, with the blessing of her father, sets off for Hollywood chasing that elusive dream of fame and fortune on the silver screen. The reader follows Elsa on her journey as she is transformed into Laura Lamont and finally realizes her dreams of becoming an A list actress. But, her personal life goes through many changes and challenges as her star rises. This story is not unlike many tales of Hollywood success, with the difficulties of maintaining one’s own identity, of having a private life that is a vast departure from the public's perception of how you live. Elsa/Laura are two very different personas, and the author does a pretty good job of showcasing each one and the challenges actresses face in keeping their lives balanced in a high profile career. Unfortunately, the story is rather predictable, and follows a path altogether too familiar, one told countless times, in a variety of ways. The characters are not bold enough, and the narrative speaks in a monotone which accentuates that lack of character depth. The sparkle and shine of old Hollywood is absent with only a modicum of truly interesting dramatic episodes. The story had some potential, but it was too dry and dull, especially with such a sparkly rich subject matter to play with. The atmosphere of glamour and history never materialized in the way I expected it to. Overall, this isn’t a bad book per se, just too blasé and clichéd. 2.5 rounded to 3

  5. 4 out of 5

    Edan

    I can't really judge this novel objectively as the author is a dear friend of mine. We were in our nonfiction workshop at Oberlin together! I attended her Russian Nightclub house party! We've double-dated! Emma and I got reacquainted a few years ago, after college, and found we had much in common, particularly that were both (still) writers and lovers of books. I have been SO excited to read her debut novel! It didn't disappoint. I love the prose here: it's as milky and winsome as the book's name I can't really judge this novel objectively as the author is a dear friend of mine. We were in our nonfiction workshop at Oberlin together! I attended her Russian Nightclub house party! We've double-dated! Emma and I got reacquainted a few years ago, after college, and found we had much in common, particularly that were both (still) writers and lovers of books. I have been SO excited to read her debut novel! It didn't disappoint. I love the prose here: it's as milky and winsome as the book's namesake, Laura Lamont. For a week I neglected my child to get back to this story of a woman's life as she goes from Wisconsin playhouse sister to Hollywood movie star. For a novel that's not particularly plot-driven, it's very hard to put down! I really admired the compassion Emma had for her characters, and the ways she made me feel connected to Laura (nee Elsa). I also loved learning about the studio system of Hollywood; despite being an L.A. native, I know nothing about movies and cinema history. I also liked the way this book compressed time. Wooh, I love this kind book: alighting on moments that matter, gliding over years. Again and again this book jumped forward in time, starting a new chapter with this terrific authority that set the scene, the time, the tone, in my mind. I L-O-V-E-D that. I wish I could do that! I was very much interested in how juvenile and naive Laura seemed at times, and how in control her second husband Irving was. I thought that relationship was going to implode at some point, that Laura would crave independence. That it didn't intrigued me, and had me thinking a lot about Laura's conception of self, and my own conception of her and her self. She was certainly a product of her era. Also: the ending was lovely, just lovely. There were a couple of weird geography things (sorry, Emma!!!). For instance, I don't think Los Feliz was considered the eastside in the 1930s, though I might be wrong. Overall, I wish LA had been a larger character, as much as Wisconsin was. I didn't often *feel* place in this book. I also felt like there was too much attention paid to her sisters and her traumatic past. It sometimes felt repetitive to me. I also longed for more social complications in the book, perhaps with her black housekeeper Harriet, or with her kids, when the 1960s and 1970s hit full swing. But I don't think that was Emma's project here--she's after an intimate view, not a Forrest Gumpian one--and I can accept that. A fun and thoughtful book!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    There is a definite possibility that I won't finish this book. The writing style isn't bad but the characters are bland and boring. It's like a dish cooked with no spices, not even a dash of salt & pepper. The main character, Laura (aka Elsa) has no definition. She is just there. I can imagine that if I could hear her voice it would be filled with sighs, monotone, languid. Nothing seems to get a spark or a reaction out of her. She just accepts whatever takes place, good or bad. Is she insecure? There is a definite possibility that I won't finish this book. The writing style isn't bad but the characters are bland and boring. It's like a dish cooked with no spices, not even a dash of salt & pepper. The main character, Laura (aka Elsa) has no definition. She is just there. I can imagine that if I could hear her voice it would be filled with sighs, monotone, languid. Nothing seems to get a spark or a reaction out of her. She just accepts whatever takes place, good or bad. Is she insecure? Maybe. Is she docile? Maybe. She has no personality...very strange for a supposed Hollywood star. Yes, in real life many actors have insecurities and doubts but are able to put on their public personas and become "the star" (Marilyn Monroe is a perfect example). Unfortunately, none of the characters are drawn out enough that they seem alive. You just don't care about them. And without being able to connect to the characters in any way - loving them or hating them - it seems pointless to want to read an entire book about them.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Brown

    I had a dream a few nights ago that I was living in Hollywood. I don't mean to say that I'd moved back to that horrible, horrible apartment I lived in for years in the early 2000s, but rather that I was in the entertainment industry. More specifically, everyone I knew--from my friends, to my sister, to one of my co-workers--had been cast in a movie. It was a big musical, the kind they don't make anymore, really, and it was all anybody could talk about. One day, I rode to work with my sister and I had a dream a few nights ago that I was living in Hollywood. I don't mean to say that I'd moved back to that horrible, horrible apartment I lived in for years in the early 2000s, but rather that I was in the entertainment industry. More specifically, everyone I knew--from my friends, to my sister, to one of my co-workers--had been cast in a movie. It was a big musical, the kind they don't make anymore, really, and it was all anybody could talk about. One day, I rode to work with my sister and Bradley Cooper in a gondola sort of contraption that lifted us high over the 10 freeway. And then Bradley Cooper told me I was fat, and I told him I could kick his ass. And then I woke up. And fuck Bradley Cooper, seriously. I digress. What I loved about this book -- aside from its easy prose, its sure-handed sense of character -- was the descriptions of the kind of Hollywood I dreamed about. Laura Lamont, formerly Elsa Emerson, moves from Wisconsin to LA to become a movie star, and then, well, she does. And of course there are fabulous things to be described: her house in Beverly Hills, the lot at Gardner Brothers (the studio that made her a star), her marriage to studio chief Irving Green (One thing I never really realized before reading this book -- actors didn't need agents during the studio system's heyday because the studio called all the shots). But there is also the cruelty of that world, the way that world could just forget you. Straub writes about both sides of Hollywood here and the effect is wonderful. There are two very difficult kinds of novels to pull off. One is the novel that takes place in one day. The other is the novel that takes place in a lifetime. This is the latter, and it's done very well. I think the second half is stronger than the first half, as the real pleasure of the book is seeing what becomes of Laura and her children (I found the son, Junior, especially well-drawn). Despite being movie stars and moguls, the characters felt very real to me throughout. [Full disclosure: I know and really, really love Emma Straub, the author of this book, so I'm incapable of objectivity here. Still, I think you should read Emma's work. I, for one, can't wait for her next book.]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    I imagine that the golden age of Hollywood would give a writer a wealth of stunning things to write about. After all, some of the star's actual lives were more salacious than the ones being acted on on the screen. Did Emma Straub take this and run with it? Absolutely not. Straub is a good writer. And the beginning of the book, set in Wisconsin, did trick me into thinking this book would be a grand old time. However she made a woman who could have been a fabulous, glamorous independent dame into I imagine that the golden age of Hollywood would give a writer a wealth of stunning things to write about. After all, some of the star's actual lives were more salacious than the ones being acted on on the screen. Did Emma Straub take this and run with it? Absolutely not. Straub is a good writer. And the beginning of the book, set in Wisconsin, did trick me into thinking this book would be a grand old time. However she made a woman who could have been a fabulous, glamorous independent dame into one of the dullest creatures I have encountered on the written page. You may wonder why I am so offended. Writing a whole book about a woman whose life is based on and revolves around things happening to her as opposed to being an active participant in her life is extremely unappealing to me. If you too were let down by the bland Laura Lamont, let me recommend reading Anne Helen Petersen's series Scandals of Classic Hollywood at The Hairpin instead. Now that is serious fun. I will try reading The Chaperone, the other classic Hollywood book that came out this year and I have faith in Louise Brooks, who you could say many things about but "dull" isn't one of them.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Primrose Jess

    A spur of the moment vacation read. The cover, the premise of vintage Hollywood glamour, and the making of a star captured my interest. My Reactions: -I thought it was all right. An "Eh, not so bad". I probably wouldn't be recommending it to anyone, not because it was awful, it just isn't the sort of book that comes to mind to tell a friend "Hey, read this. Seriously, read this". Premise: Laura Lamont, screen name of course, grew up in rural, woodsy Wisconsin. Her father staged theatrical produ A spur of the moment vacation read. The cover, the premise of vintage Hollywood glamour, and the making of a star captured my interest. My Reactions: -I thought it was all right. An "Eh, not so bad". I probably wouldn't be recommending it to anyone, not because it was awful, it just isn't the sort of book that comes to mind to tell a friend "Hey, read this. Seriously, read this". Premise: Laura Lamont, screen name of course, grew up in rural, woodsy Wisconsin. Her father staged theatrical productions and Laura spent her childhood surrounded by actors, actresses, and the arts. Tragedy had struck her family and she remembers it with tinted glasses that her family doesn't wear. Laura feels she is destined for other things, marries another aspiring actor, and heads to Hollywood. She finds in Hollywood that studios take care of their stars and begins a whirlwind life.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. As a huge fan of movies from the 30s-40s, I began this book with quite a bit of knowledge about the studio system and the time period itself, so I was hoping this book would be a fictional treat to satiate my love of the "Hollywood golden age." Not quite. For a book that has a premise of taking place in said era, most of it does not. The plot largely consists of Laura's fade-out, her fizzle into obscurity. I found that I really didn't buy it when I wanted to like this book so much more than I did. As a huge fan of movies from the 30s-40s, I began this book with quite a bit of knowledge about the studio system and the time period itself, so I was hoping this book would be a fictional treat to satiate my love of the "Hollywood golden age." Not quite. For a book that has a premise of taking place in said era, most of it does not. The plot largely consists of Laura's fade-out, her fizzle into obscurity. I found that I really didn't buy it when people would recognize her, or talk about how wonderful she was in her heyday, because Straub didn't really give Laura much of one. Laura reminisces a lot about when the studio was her playground, but we aren't really able to share her nostalgia because the Hollywood that Straub creates doesn't feel fully formed. Other reviewers have said that Laura feels like a bland character- and I couldn't agree more. This story revolves completely around this one character, and because so much of her persona is founded in her relationships instead of in her own quirks and tics and characteristics, we don't really know who SHE is inside, rather just who she is on the shallow surface. My biggest problem with the book was that the writing did a LOT of telling rather than showing. Straub felt the need to explain every emotion of Laura's to us, every action, and remind us of every reason why she acted that way. i.e.- we KNOW that the awful family tragedy was her main M.O, her main driving force, but Straub reminded us of that all. the. time. So much explanation made the book feel labored; too many words for so little emotion. The book started out well (chapter one is lovely, and the only place where the writing style really suits), but really it just left so much to be desired. A worthwhile beach read, but that's about it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    It wasn’t until after I finished this book that I realized the title might have two meanings: the obvious one (that it relates to a film star’s life) and the thematic one (that this is a novel as told by a series of snapshots of the titular character’s life). Now, I might be completely wrong about the dual meaning (I haven’t seen the latter referenced in any press on the book, although I haven’t looked that hard), but the dual meaning makes me like the novel slightly better so I’m sticking with It wasn’t until after I finished this book that I realized the title might have two meanings: the obvious one (that it relates to a film star’s life) and the thematic one (that this is a novel as told by a series of snapshots of the titular character’s life). Now, I might be completely wrong about the dual meaning (I haven’t seen the latter referenced in any press on the book, although I haven’t looked that hard), but the dual meaning makes me like the novel slightly better so I’m sticking with it. This is an ambitious novel, fitting the story of a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age over a five-decade span into 300 pages. That’s part of why I’m doing a longer review for this book: given the ambition hinted at within its pages, dismissing it in a few lines seems unfair. So it is an ambitious novel, but it’s that ambition that dooms the book, leaving it as a series of disjointed sketches with little insight into Hollywood, the broader era, or even the main character, Laura Lamont / Elsa Emerson. Throughout the novel, Laura exists within a bubble. There are only token references to major events occurring (the Depression, World War II, the rise of television) but those are mostly on the periphery of her life. It’s an odd choice, given how central many of those events were to both her generation and Hollywood. As it is a 300-page novel, cuts had to be made somewhere, but the complete disconnect from the wider world hurts rather than helps the narrative. The bigger issue is that Laura also exists in a bubble within her own life. Hollywood is such a tangential part of the novel that the story could have been set anywhere with very few changes. Laura is, at the end of the day, a career woman who gives up her career to raise a family and has to deal with the normal events that affect most families. In theory, I like the idea of a novel that strips away the glamor of Hollywood and shows an actress as an ordinary person, unable to escape the realities of life, for better or worse. But that’s me putting a lot of subtext into a novel that, honestly, isn’t that great in execution. Full disclosure: I live in Los Angeles. I moved here (also from the Midwest) around the same time in my life as Laura / Elsa did, give or take a few decades. This is a heady city in which to come of age. To a Midwesterner (and I’m not alone in saying this), it can, at first, seem like a foreign city. But we never see that disconnect with Elsa. She never steps into Hollywood or interacts with the city in a meaningful way. When things happen in this book, they happen to her. Laura might be one of the most passive main characters I’ve encountered. That, to me, is the central part of why the book fails: her inaction and lack of ambition don’t jive with who she is supposed to be. Actors, by their nature, are networkers. They have to be. I’m not directly involved in the entertainment industry, but it’s hard to live in Los Angeles without encountering it. The Laura / Elsa character is a fiction of the worst sort. Yes, lucky breaks happen (although they are the exception), but no one in this town succeeds without a lot of ambition and assertiveness – and that’s not a recent occurrence. As an acquaintance put it (and I paraphrase): lucky breaks only matter if you actually do something with them. Laura gets lucky breaks, but she never exerts herself. She’s a doll that has good things happen to her, and while parts of that narrative made for some of the strongest points of the story, it falters without the counterbalance of Laura’s own ambition. While the author did try and tackle the divide between Elsa (her private persona) and Laura (her public persona), it’s a shallow, clunky insertion and could, once again, be put into any book about someone’s private vs. public life. There’s no mention of how the ambition and assertiveness needed by actresses in Hollywood was at odds with the portrayal of the idealized woman of mid-century America. Instead, things happen to Laura and she goes along with it and maybe has a few awkwardly-inserted deep thoughts to make the book seem important. I’m honestly not sure why the novel was set in Hollywood, except as a convenient hook to a story the author wanted to tell about a woman’s life. There’s a lack of authenticity about the Hollywood scenes that hinder an already weak plot. One more point and then I’ll finish: several years ago, I was at a small party for a television show. It wasn’t a huge show, although it had decent ratings and a devoted following. The party was mostly people involved with the show, who worked long hours together everyday and were, if I had to guess, not thrilled that they were losing an evening to what was, to them, a work event. My clearest memory of the evening was when the star of the show stepped into the room. A hush fell over the room, people looked in her direction and, for the tiniest of moments, everything in that room was directed to her. And then the conversations resumed, she went around to talk to people, and I wondered at what it would be like to draw that sort of attention, even among people who saw you everyday. Watching that moment, I understood why some actors are willing to go to such extremes to be famous and to hold onto that fame. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures plays with that idea, but it’s a shallow sort of toying with the idea rather than any meaningful exertion. It reminded me nothing of the Los Angeles I know now or I've heard about from stories of its halcyon days in the midcentury. It’s an ambitious story written by someone who did some research but lacks the understanding of the place and people to give the story the backbone and heart it needs. In painting a pretty picture of fame without sacrifice, of a woman who never meaningfully exerts herself to achieve her goals, it’s odd to then have a story that tries to center on the messy realities of life behind the glamour. Not recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Originally published in Time Out New York Emma Straub’s recent short fiction collection, Other People We Married, was well received and praised by literary luminaries from Dan Chaon to Lorrie Moore. So it follows that the Brooklyn bookseller’s debut novel would be highly anticipated. Unfortunately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures fails to meet the author’s lofty ambitions. Blond, ordinary theater brat Elsa Emerson leaves picturesque Door County, Wisconsin, and transforms into alluring Golden Age H Originally published in Time Out New York Emma Straub’s recent short fiction collection, Other People We Married, was well received and praised by literary luminaries from Dan Chaon to Lorrie Moore. So it follows that the Brooklyn bookseller’s debut novel would be highly anticipated. Unfortunately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures fails to meet the author’s lofty ambitions. Blond, ordinary theater brat Elsa Emerson leaves picturesque Door County, Wisconsin, and transforms into alluring Golden Age Hollywood star Laura Lamont, with help from her powerful studio-exec husband. Laura embodies a heady celluloid fantasy for the moviegoing public while maintaining a quaint private life replete with three kids, a house in the Hills and a live-in nanny. Tragedy ensues, Laura’s star wanes, and the once-laureled actress becomes a relic of a bygone era, struggling to make ends meet. Straub’s ability to blend story and character into a thoroughly pleasant brew is laudable, but nothing here transcends. Her prose sings, but it does so in a key just shy of sentimentality. Life in Pictures focuses on the inner life of an exceptional woman, and on that score it is a modest success: As a devoted mother and openhearted woman who values friendship above career, Laura is anything but the stereotypical Hollywood diva. A grand book needs more than likable characters, however, and in that regard the novel fails. Laura is an appealing protagonist who meets tragedy and success with empathy and strength, but Straub ushers her through the plot with kid gloves, allowing elegantly phrased platitudes to substitute for genuine emotional gravitas. Commenting early on about one of Laura’s films, Straub writes: “It was a simple story, with lots of flirting and costume changes.” The same could be said of this book. If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    There's always a nervousness that accompanies reading a book written by someone you know. I get a minor version of this quite often when I sit down to read a book by an author I'm working with, but it's infinitely worse when it's a friend. What if you don't like it? How will you ever talk to that person again if their writing sucks? Luckily, my feelings about Laura Lamont are the complete and total opposite. I LOVED this book, the story of a Hollywood actress from her childhood in 1930s Wisconsin There's always a nervousness that accompanies reading a book written by someone you know. I get a minor version of this quite often when I sit down to read a book by an author I'm working with, but it's infinitely worse when it's a friend. What if you don't like it? How will you ever talk to that person again if their writing sucks? Luckily, my feelings about Laura Lamont are the complete and total opposite. I LOVED this book, the story of a Hollywood actress from her childhood in 1930s Wisconsin through a golden age in LA all the way up until 1980. While reading, I was reminded most strongly of two other things: 1. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, in both its loveliness and its time period 2. the TV movie of Lucky Chances with Nicolette Sheridan, based on the Jackie Collins novels When I wasn't reading this book, I wanted to be reading. I had to stop myself from skipping ahead, almost as if I were reading a thriller. I highly recommend this book. In addition to getting an awesome read, anyone who buys it will also be supporting one of the nicest, most supportive, all-around-fun people I know.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Digital audiobook narrated by Molly Ringwold From the book jacket: An enchanting debut novel about a small-town midwestern girl who finds fame as a sensational movie star during Holllywood’s golden age, this work is also a story of family, ambition, and sacrifice. My reactions I get a certain little kick out of reading a book set in my backyard, and this one begins in idyllic Door County Wisconsin. Add a family tradition of theatre – Elsa, is the youngest of three daughters born to the owner/opera Digital audiobook narrated by Molly Ringwold From the book jacket: An enchanting debut novel about a small-town midwestern girl who finds fame as a sensational movie star during Holllywood’s golden age, this work is also a story of family, ambition, and sacrifice. My reactions I get a certain little kick out of reading a book set in my backyard, and this one begins in idyllic Door County Wisconsin. Add a family tradition of theatre – Elsa, is the youngest of three daughters born to the owner/operators of the Cherry County Playhouse – and the romance of Hollywood’s golden age, and I was captured by the book jacket’s promise. I wasn’t expecting great literature, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a rags-to-riches, poor-girl-marries-powerful-executive, money-can’t-buy-happiness story that would have easily been produced by the studio-system of Hollywood in the 1930s and ‘40s. Other than Elsa/Laura, I thought the characters lacked development. Still, it was a quick read and although I found the plot somewhat predictable, I was content to go along for the ride. Molly Ringwold does a find job narrating the audiobook. She has good pacing, and she’s sufficiently accomplished as an actress to breath life into the characters.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jody

    I very rarely abandon books part way through. I'm eternally optimistic it will get better, even if it starts off slow. I did that for about half of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, but now I'm done. The writing is sophomorically passive (and as a sophomoric, passive writer myself, I know whereof I speak). It's "First she did this, then she did that, and when he said this, she felt this way about it" with some flowery description thrown in every so often from the very first page. The characters a I very rarely abandon books part way through. I'm eternally optimistic it will get better, even if it starts off slow. I did that for about half of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, but now I'm done. The writing is sophomorically passive (and as a sophomoric, passive writer myself, I know whereof I speak). It's "First she did this, then she did that, and when he said this, she felt this way about it" with some flowery description thrown in every so often from the very first page. The characters are flat and have zero personality. The only hint of trouble for the first hundred pages, the one thing that could've stirred the pot and created some tension, is dispatched with off-stage in a few sentences. I'm also disappointed because I love the Golden Age of Hollywood movies. If there had been even a glint of some of that gold anywhere, I might've stuck with it for the duration, but Straub could have set her novel on a Japanese fishing vessel or in a suburban elementary for all the atmosphere she provided. The book could've been anywhere, any time, about anyone.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    Wheee! This is my first Goodreads "First Reads" giveaway win! CAUTION: The review below contains some mild spoilers. August 12, 2012 Though I'm not quite halfway through the book, I have much to say, so I'll start my comments here. This is hard for me, because I really want to like this book, and I feel that Emma Straub is an author I want to encourage, but I have some issues with the novel so far. For me, the book is a little slow to get going. I would have started the book with the second chapte Wheee! This is my first Goodreads "First Reads" giveaway win! CAUTION: The review below contains some mild spoilers. August 12, 2012 Though I'm not quite halfway through the book, I have much to say, so I'll start my comments here. This is hard for me, because I really want to like this book, and I feel that Emma Straub is an author I want to encourage, but I have some issues with the novel so far. For me, the book is a little slow to get going. I would have started the book with the second chapter, when Elsa/Laura arrives in Hollywood, with the preceding material either in a shorter introductory piece or presented as a flashback. The story wouldn't lose much if it came in on Elsa/Laura's relationship with her first husband mid-stream. Elsa/Laura's relationships in general are not particularly well drawn, and her relationship with her first husband seems like a slight plot device. More could be done with it, but if Gordon's role is merely to get her out of Wisconsin and father her first two children, the reader doesn't miss much if we meet him as they're arriving in California. Few characters feel fleshed out, and dialogue is scant. One potentially interesting character, Josephine, says almost nothing and doesn't write letters to Laura after Laura moves to Hollywood. While this seems like a part of Josephine's character, it also feels like a hole--like maybe it's convenient to maintain her silence because the author isn't able to give her words. I've always been interested in early Hollywood and the star/studio system, and over the years I've read biographies of Garbo, Louise Brooks, Bette Davis, and screenwriter Frances Marion. Each of these biographies reveals a lot about the industry from its beginnings through mid-century, and each illustrates how much hard work and personal sacrifice it took for these women to advance their careers. Many women in the film industry during this era did marry and have children, but--unless they were already major stars, and even sometimes if they were well established--in many cases those events marked the end of their careers. Few aspiring actresses arrived in Hollywood already married, and even fewer were able to launch their careers when they already had young children. That Laura's career starts out this way is very unusual, and I think it's enough of an oddity that more needs to be made of it. The reader is told that Laura loves acting, that it's who she is, but we don't really see it. Laura's success seems to fall into her lap; it doesn't seem like the result of years of single-minded effort. At one point Laura (or is it the author?) suggests that “Every actor and actress on the lot would have worked for free,” but established stars who devoted their lives to working in films had no intention of doing so for free (see Davis, Garbo, and others). The fantasy of just somehow becoming a major star in Hollywood and living a glamorous life dominates the early part of the book. Descriptive passages are devoted to the trappings of this glamorous life--clothes, cars, houses. This is not exactly a historical novel with fastidious attention to historical accuracy, and that's okay, but the number of things that feel historically questionable does grate after a while. Some examples: 1) For Gordon to complain about his first contract makes him (or perhaps the author?) seem naïve. To even get a first contract, even as a bit player, was a big deal. The terms of his contract sound like pretty standard studio fare for the time. An actor was under a studio’s control almost as sports stars today are under a team’s control—except perhaps moreso because of the demands a studio could make on an actor’s personal life choices. 2) At the Academy Awards banquet, Laura notes that her father has seen each of the six films she’s made. If Laura went under contract in 1939, it’s unlikely that she would have made only six films in nine years. If Laura receives special treatment because she’s married to a studio head, it’s worth making that point. That Laura wins the Oscar the first time she’s nominated, with the reader getting very little genuine evidence of Laura’s supposed acting abilities, is just another of the parts of this book that feels like pure Hollywood fantasy. Some characters in the book echo real Hollywood figures. Irving Greene is not-so-loosely based on Irving Thalberg, one of the studio heads at MGM in the 20s and 30s. Like Thalberg, Greene is young and frail. Thalberg had heart problems and other health problems, and by the age of 21 he was a high-level executive at a major studio. Like Thalberg, Greene eschews screen credit. Thalberg partnered at MGM with Louis B. Mayer; Greene works with Louis Gardner. Like Greene, Thalberg married and to some degree shepherded the career of a successful actress—in Thalberg’s case, actress Norma Shearer. I haven’t reached this point in the book yet, but I have a strong suspicion that, like Thalberg, Greene will die fairly young, leaving a widow and children. [EDIT and SPOILER: Yep.] The book gains some ground when Laura’s family finally comes to visit. When this happens, we're reminded that all is not fantasy, that there's a darker side to all this and perhaps some larger meaning. Still, her parents’ attitudes and motivations are too opaque, too lacking in nuance. There’s potential in this side of the story, and perhaps as the book progresses it will improve by placing more focus on and better developing these relationships. I suspect Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures might work for some readers a little like Rules of Civility does in that many people will read it and enjoy it because of the world the characters inhabit. A good chunk of that enjoyment will rise out of readers' own existing ideas and fantasies about the world in which they believe the story is set. There's some value in that, but the book itself is flawed. Of course, my overall opinion may still change in the next 100+ pages! August 25, 2012 Wow. It's taken so much longer than it should have to read this book. I've got to be honest: It's not that it's slow-moving plot-wise, nor is it intellectually challenging. It just never captured my imagination. I don't feel much for any of these characters, despite what they may have gone through. Too much of the book feels cliché. There's a lot of fairly plain repetition about how much Laura misses her second husband, but she hooks up with him so quickly to begin with and there's so little shape and color to their relationship that's it hard to see what was so wonderful about it, or to care. Alas, there are even more characters in the second half of the book who are pretty obviously modeled after real Hollywood notables. That's not necessarily a problem, but in this book it just feels kind of lazy. In the second half of the book, the author uses characters along the lines of Lucille Ball (she may actually show up earlier--can't remember exactly), a Barbara Eden/Elizabeth Montgomery type, and even Edna straight out of The Incredibles (who, in that movie, is herself modeled after a real person, but in a much more effective way--besides, that's a cartoon). It's like the author doesn't have to describe these characters, because once we have a thumbnail, they're so familiar to us that we already know all about them--on the surface. Unfortunately, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures rarely delves much, with any degree of insight or subtlety, beneath that surface with respect to any characters or situations. The book doesn't add enough substance to the collage of cliches, gushing vague descriptions of the material stuff of Hollywood (and there's not even that much of that), references to real people, and telling-without-showing to give the story it's own value.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kati

    It was fairly good. I just thought it dragged on in several parts and it took me a while to want to finish it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Crystal Starr Light

    Elsa Emerson is a young girl living in Wisconsin, with parents who run a theater, when her older sister, Hildy, dies tragically. When Elsa grows up, she married Gordon Pitts, a young actor, and heads out to Hollywood to make her debut. There, she becomes Laura Lamont, finds love, and learns to deal with the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future. NOTE: I received this through the Amazon Vine Program. There is nothing more glittery than the Golden Years of Hollywood, which is what Elsa Emerson is a young girl living in Wisconsin, with parents who run a theater, when her older sister, Hildy, dies tragically. When Elsa grows up, she married Gordon Pitts, a young actor, and heads out to Hollywood to make her debut. There, she becomes Laura Lamont, finds love, and learns to deal with the past, enjoy the present, and look forward to the future. NOTE: I received this through the Amazon Vine Program. There is nothing more glittery than the Golden Years of Hollywood, which is what compelled me to select this book. And what drew me in was Emma Straub's absolutely stunning writing. But I can't give this book full marks for one simple reason: I want more. Straub has created this beautiful, vivid world. Elsa's life in Wisconsin, her childhood with Hildy, is painted so beautifully, so tenderly, so carefully that I was hooked. I couldn't help reading this book; it begged me to read it constantly. And that compulsion never really left me the entire time I read this book. I've read far too many books with saggy middles or boring beginnings or sloppy endings that I forgot what it's like to read a book that refuses to be put down. Straub has created that book. Her characters are intricate and stunning. Elsa/Laura is our protagonist, and through the fifty or so years of her life that we get a peek into, she goes through a lot. The death of her beloved sister, marriage, children, divorce, death, suicide, success, failure--it's all there, and it all touches her in ways that make sense (for the most part). Elsa internalizes what happens to her sister in a way that changes her for the rest of her life. She begins her pattern of constantly "acting", slipping into a new character for each person she comes in contact with: a lover for Gordon, an actress for her boss, a mother to her children. She comes to a point where she has no idea who she is or which "Elsa/Laura" she should be, she is so stretched thin. Irving, Gordon, Josephine, Ginger, Jimmy, Hildy, Clara, Florence, Junior, Harriet--they are the people that populate Laura's world and are as multi-dimensioned as Laura. These are people with dreams and desires, fears and follies. Sometimes their motivations don't always make a lot of sense (such as a key event in Junior's life), but I wonder if that is the "fault" of following Laura and Laura alone. So what is the problem? It's simple: More. I need more. I need more of Laura actually acting during the height of her career. I need to see more of her interactions with other people, more than just throwaway lines about how things have changed in the sometimes 10 years between chapters. This is a beautiful, intricate book talking about the life of a woman and how it goes from success to failure to success, but I had trouble understanding her "failures" because I never saw enough of her life when it was successful. What about the movies she acted in? The people she acted with? The leads she kissed? How she got started onto the barbiturates? I can get this isn't going to be a tell-all about the inner workings of Hollywood, with lots of time dedicated to her movie career. I get that and respect it--if you want to see the "dark side" of Hollywood, I can think of quite a few movies that have gone there ("Walk the Line", "Dreamgirls", and "Ray" are the first ones off the top of my head). I understand that this book is more about Laura away from her glitzy, actress side. But if I don't see her acting, if I don't see more of her success, I can't feel the pain when her life begins to slip away. And that is really how I would boil this book down. It's a beautifully written novel, completely absorbing with an interesting story that desperately could have used 100+ pages added. If you love Golden Age Hollywood but are okay with not seeing much "behind the scenes" of the acting life and instead want a closer look at how it affects an actress, I definitely recommend this book to you. Even though I was constantly yelling "MORE!" to the book, I did greatly enjoy it and will be keeping my eyes open for more Straub books in the future.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    My father was a child of the great movie studios. At the ripe old age of 4 or 5 he made the transition from Vaudeville to Fox Studio, and had several silent films under his belt as "Little Eli." He also was in a precursor to the Little Rascals, called the Sunshine Kids. One made it; one didn't. He used to talk about Jackie Coogan as his big rival. We have posters and pictures, and at least a copy of one film he was in. As a child, it fueled my imagination to think I could have been the daughter My father was a child of the great movie studios. At the ripe old age of 4 or 5 he made the transition from Vaudeville to Fox Studio, and had several silent films under his belt as "Little Eli." He also was in a precursor to the Little Rascals, called the Sunshine Kids. One made it; one didn't. He used to talk about Jackie Coogan as his big rival. We have posters and pictures, and at least a copy of one film he was in. As a child, it fueled my imagination to think I could have been the daughter of a star. But the depression had other plans for the life of Little Eli. He went on to become a physician of note, and though he was nominated for a Nobel Prize, it went instead to Jackie Coogan in the scientific world. He always felt like a footnote in history. Which brings me to this novel. I had great hopes for a glimpse into the world of the studios in their glory years. The classics of film still remain my favorites. Give me Claudette Colbert, Katherine Hepburn, or Mirna Loy, or some equally slim, glamorous female pitted against the men of the day -- Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, or even Alan Ladd (who my husband was named after) black and white film moving on the reels, and the music of the big bands, and I'm a happy camper. Though a large portion of this book takes place in that world, I never really was transported there. I'm not sure if it's because Emma Straub chose to make up a studio and stars entirely, with no basis in the real history or what. But the transport to that world never happened. Elsa Emerson, enters stage right, youngest daughter in a Wisconsin family who run the summer theater in their small town. Elsa eventually wends her way to Hollywood (with a new husband she met in summer stock and later divorces), has several children and morphs into Laura Lamont, under the guidance of studio head Irving Green. The story follows Elsa/Laura's life over the next 50 years. What struck me most was how unhappy most of the people in Laura's life were. True, she did find her big love, but even that was cut short. The joy in life seemed to be lacking, especially as Laura moves from starlet to former star. I did like the way the author chose to end the book, with a new phase opening for Lana, that at least looked hopeful. I'm not sure what I expected of this book -- maybe more of the Hollywood I knew existed at the time. Everything was made up, without touching the actual Hollywood of those days. Even the rival studio was made up. I wish Laura's world could have slipped into the golden age I know existed back then. I wish her family (birth, acquired, and studio) could have had more joy in it. As it was, I felt that I was looking at a faded picture of a place I knew and loved. Rounding up to 3 stars because the story did keep me engaged, even though it did make me sad. Also, some of my beefs in the writing may have been due to this being an advanced reader edition of the book. Received via the kindness of LibraryThing and the publisher.

  20. 5 out of 5

    christa

    Say we were all sitting around a table right now. A big bowl of tortilla chips, a rainbow array of San Pellegrino flavors at the ready. We’d just chipped the Yahtzee cup from overuse. We all took turns sighing dramatically until I suggested a way to kill time: “I have an idea. What if we all tried to imagine the life of a young girl from the Midwest who makes for California and is built into a good old fashioned Hollywood starlet?” We would, undoubtedly, create something that sounded a lot like Say we were all sitting around a table right now. A big bowl of tortilla chips, a rainbow array of San Pellegrino flavors at the ready. We’d just chipped the Yahtzee cup from overuse. We all took turns sighing dramatically until I suggested a way to kill time: “I have an idea. What if we all tried to imagine the life of a young girl from the Midwest who makes for California and is built into a good old fashioned Hollywood starlet?” We would, undoubtedly, create something that sounded a lot like Emma Straub’s debut novel “Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.” The origin story for leading ladies is a familiar one. Take a blonde farm girl and put her on a bus for Los Angeles. Restrict her intake to water and air with celery on special occasions, use the finest pencil to create matching crescents on her forehead, point her bazongas toward a studio exec and give her a little nudge. The awards will be followed by migraines which are followed by the ignominious graduation from ingenue to the role of the ingenue’s mother. If she hasn’t killed herself yet, well, she just hasn’t tried the right drug cocktail. Straub hasn’t deviated much from the same-old, same-old script for her version of the long sad life of Elsa Emerson who grows up in Door County in the 1920s. Her parents host a summer stock-style theater on their farm during the summer and young actors from around the country spend the summer camped out in cabins between runs of “The Royal Family,” etc. Elsa is the youngest of three children, including her favorite sister -- the all-flair Hilda -- and the quiet worker bee Josephine. Her mother is cold, her father is warm. Hilda gets caught up in a summer fling that ends with her starring in a dramatic final act, which sets the scene for Elsa to eventually hitch her star to a young actor’s Greyhound ticket. She lands in La-La-Land and ultimately gets a small litter, a new name, a new hair color and a new high-power husband. Laura Lamont becomes the go-to girl for sad story lines and even wins an Academy Award. Then things get a little “All About Eve”-ish. Straub’s novel is heavy on exposition, light on character development. It’s like a “True Hollywood Story” minus the interviews and insight. She’s got an interesting juxtaposition with Elsa-turned-Laura, but doesn’t really mine the two versions of the same woman. When she begins a relationship with a studio head, it’s hard to tell whether this means anything to her or if it’s just another rung on a ladder. And when Straub doubles back to paint it as a something genuine, it feels false. Her instances of foreshadowing feel more light flash hazard lights. I can’t figure out why Straub decided to tell this story, which could easily be the biography of any young Hollywood actress in the dawn of talkies. Of course, it’s a little sweet -- albeit darkly sweet -- as anyone who read and loved Straub’s short story collection “Other People We Married” might expect. But it could use more consideration and depth.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Annabel Smith

    It didn't knock my socks off. The story felt a little predictable, especially the first half of the book which chronicles the title character's rise to stardom - I felt like things were being described to me which I had already seen for myself (i.e. cliches). Some of the characters felt quite one-dimensional (her first husband, for example, felt like a vehicle to progress the action in a certain direction). Later on, when life gets tough for Laura, I found it more interesting but even then I wasn It didn't knock my socks off. The story felt a little predictable, especially the first half of the book which chronicles the title character's rise to stardom - I felt like things were being described to me which I had already seen for myself (i.e. cliches). Some of the characters felt quite one-dimensional (her first husband, for example, felt like a vehicle to progress the action in a certain direction). Later on, when life gets tough for Laura, I found it more interesting but even then I wasn't really very connected to it on an emotional level. I think you can always tell when a book hasn't fully pulled you in because you get irked by small details which you would just let slide if you were completely absorbed, so i found myself picking fault with metaphors which didn't quite work, plot points which seemed implausible etc I think the best scenes were from Elsa's childhood in Door County - I felt like Straub was writing about a world she really knew and understood there and it was the strongest section of the book both in terms of the writing quality and the emotional engagement. I don't think Straub has quite hit her straps yet as a writer but this was an enjoyable read overall and I would still check out her next book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Smith

    I picked up this book because the title struck me as a line from one of those great campy songs. Unfortunately, that is where my love affair with the novel stopped. It never quite became what I wanted it to be. The characters were trite and the story line was rushed and more often than not it was forced into being a story I've heard before. It was clear that the author has a great fascination and appreciation for the Golden Age of screen, and it is for that reason that it may have suited her bet I picked up this book because the title struck me as a line from one of those great campy songs. Unfortunately, that is where my love affair with the novel stopped. It never quite became what I wanted it to be. The characters were trite and the story line was rushed and more often than not it was forced into being a story I've heard before. It was clear that the author has a great fascination and appreciation for the Golden Age of screen, and it is for that reason that it may have suited her better to simply pick a screen icon from that time and do a really well thought out and researched historical fiction expose. Instead what happened here was that her nods to screen greats like Rock Hudson and Judy Garland became uncomfortable and a little silly that she bothered to re-name them. And though her world did glitter, it was clearly not golden. At the end of the day, the writing talent is there but this was a clear miss of a novel.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I really did like this book. It wasn't what I expected from reading Straub's later books which are much more sassy and witty; but it was tender and heartfelt and about LA where my son, daughter by love, and grandchild live...my son is a film editor. That doesn't mean I understand the movie star life, but I get the city. Her story is one of loss. (SPOILER)...the loss of her sister, her father and then her husband. I needed a book that wasn't about death...yeah, right. I had begun reading There, T I really did like this book. It wasn't what I expected from reading Straub's later books which are much more sassy and witty; but it was tender and heartfelt and about LA where my son, daughter by love, and grandchild live...my son is a film editor. That doesn't mean I understand the movie star life, but I get the city. Her story is one of loss. (SPOILER)...the loss of her sister, her father and then her husband. I needed a book that wasn't about death...yeah, right. I had begun reading There, There by Tommy Orange. Now there's a book about DEATH. I just couldn't take it while vacationing and caring for my new grand child...but the son who was visiting with his wife and daughter gave it to me as a birthday present, so I plan to read...for more reasons than that, but that's enough. Laura Lamont felt like a real person...her family felt real, her marriage, as idyllic as it was, felt real and her career in Hollywood, as high and low as it was, felt real. Much better to read at the beach than There There. Trust me. I'll review that book when I finish. And I will.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Jamieson

    I really loved this book - light and fun but not frivolous. Great read during quarantine 😉

  25. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    It feels like I've read this book before... Even though I haven't. This book read like a Danielle Steel novel - beautiful young thing with a tragic childhood event comes to Hollywood, finds great love, loses great love, overcomes tragedy. This book spends only a brief time on the transformation of Elsa Emerson into Laura Lamont, and instead focuses (disproportionally in my mind) on Laura's life after she is out of the Hollywood business. Laura is widowed and her husband's death leaves a gaping f It feels like I've read this book before... Even though I haven't. This book read like a Danielle Steel novel - beautiful young thing with a tragic childhood event comes to Hollywood, finds great love, loses great love, overcomes tragedy. This book spends only a brief time on the transformation of Elsa Emerson into Laura Lamont, and instead focuses (disproportionally in my mind) on Laura's life after she is out of the Hollywood business. Laura is widowed and her husband's death leaves a gaping financial and emotional hole in her life. To make ends meet, Laura lives in a hotel bungalow instead of her ostentatious house and lets the nanny go, even though Laura hasn't worked in years. She hires a secretary to help her, but with what is never quite clear. Perhaps the title is just misleading, since Laura was in fewer than 5 films in her early youth. The title should be perhaps "Laura Lamont's Ordinary Life after Hollywood" or "Elsa to Laura to Widow" or "Even Celebrity Moms Screw Up Their Kids" I felt like this book could have been so much more. Not a single one of Laura's Hollywood friends are affected by any major events in America. It all seems to be about poor Laura. And I just couldn't figure out Laura's marriage. Was she looking for a manager? A savior? A hunk? An agent? It seemed like there was sexual desire, but little in the way of affection or intimacy, yet Laura seems completely lost after her husband died. I would have liked more about Laura's daily life on set, but the book glossed over her movies. I kept wondering exactly what the message of the book is supposed to be. Are we constantly trying to live for others? Does grief motivate us more than we think? Once you change yourself, can you ever go back to a simpler life? But I may be making this book deeper than what it is. Fun read, but not amazing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    The old days of the studio system will perplex many readers: how could anyone want to be a star badly enough to allow a stranger to change your name... you hair color... your marital status... your sexual orientation... your accent... your talent? This book goes some of the way towards explaining that. Laura was born Elsa, a Wisconsin girl of strong Norwegian stock. Her father runs a summer stock theatre, and she and her sisters Hildy and Josephine help out with the cooking, cleaning and other re The old days of the studio system will perplex many readers: how could anyone want to be a star badly enough to allow a stranger to change your name... you hair color... your marital status... your sexual orientation... your accent... your talent? This book goes some of the way towards explaining that. Laura was born Elsa, a Wisconsin girl of strong Norwegian stock. Her father runs a summer stock theatre, and she and her sisters Hildy and Josephine help out with the cooking, cleaning and other related chores. One summer Hildy (the beautiful dreamer) meets Cliff. It doesn't end well. Eight years later, Elsa meets Gordon-from-Florida and sees in him a way to escape to Hollywood, where she can act on a bigger [sound]stage. That marriage doesn't go well, but Elsa - now Laura Lamont - and her two daughters manage just fine (so fine, in fact, that Laura wins an Oscar, much to her father's delight). Married to the behind-the-scenes boss at a studio, her life seems charmed until Irving dies. I wish the book had spent more time with that phase of Laura's life: the studio life, the world created there (need a wedding dress? go to costumes. need a lawyer? they'll provide one). Several of the characters and films are clearly veiled references to well-known actors and films of the past, and that's part of the fun. Where the book goes wrong is spending so much time on Laura's post-Irving life. That could have gone a little faster, with less time spent on the minutiae of her days, her lackluster attempts to revive her career, etc., and we really didn't need to hear from Gordon again. ARC provided by publisher.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    When I was a about 11, I discovered The Bookateria, a used paperback bookstore with good prices in Ocean City,NJ, and I spent a few years tearing through Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Danielle Steel books, among others. This book reminds me of Sidney Sheldon's rags-to-very-glamorous-riches stories, but with better writing. The nostalgic Sidney-Sheldon-ness of this book can be the only explanation for why I finished it. The writing really wasn't that good. There's not a very fully realiz When I was a about 11, I discovered The Bookateria, a used paperback bookstore with good prices in Ocean City,NJ, and I spent a few years tearing through Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Danielle Steel books, among others. This book reminds me of Sidney Sheldon's rags-to-very-glamorous-riches stories, but with better writing. The nostalgic Sidney-Sheldon-ness of this book can be the only explanation for why I finished it. The writing really wasn't that good. There's not a very fully realized character in the whole book. And Sidney Sheldon's books were at least good, trashy fun. Elsa, a milk-fed, kind of boring girl grows up as a part of the family who runs a Wisconsin summer theater. There's a sister who commits suicide. She marries an actor because he's heading off to California, has a couple of babies, meets a legendary producer who makes her Laura Lamont, a star, and then his wife. And then her career fades away, as careers in the pictures so often do. Straub should have either bothered to create a character interesting enough to hold the reader's interest, or she should have made it trashier.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laurel

    It’s not sophisticated. It’s just pulsating and bombshelled and well-cast. So I read it in two sessions on the couch. The augur of my literary beginnings presses me down again, back to Newman Library, between the radiators, consumed by tragic Hollywood glamour. I thought the book would somehow delve deeper, that the last act reveal wouldn’t have been so oddly telegraphed from page one, when it was supposed to be life-changing. Maybe it related to the fact that Laura Lamont already knew what was c It’s not sophisticated. It’s just pulsating and bombshelled and well-cast. So I read it in two sessions on the couch. The augur of my literary beginnings presses me down again, back to Newman Library, between the radiators, consumed by tragic Hollywood glamour. I thought the book would somehow delve deeper, that the last act reveal wouldn’t have been so oddly telegraphed from page one, when it was supposed to be life-changing. Maybe it related to the fact that Laura Lamont already knew what was coming, way deep down. Or it was lazy writing. Who cares. It’s lovely little books like these that will collect sand, which is too bad cause it came out last Tuesday. At one point early in the narrative I almost skipped to the center leaves, expecting plates of the star at every age. Life in pictures, am I right? It did feel like a biography of Ava, or Dorothy, or Jean. The best thing about it is that it isn’t challenging, just perfectly rendered inside the bombshell dreambook. I give it five out of five Marilyn Monroes hanging on a teenager’s wall.

  29. 5 out of 5

    g

    Don't you hate it when people say that the characters in a book weren't "believable?" I do, too, but this was one of the problems I had with Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. I was absolutely in love with what this novel could have been. I was drawn to the setting and the idea of a starlet who came from Nowheresville, USA. I felt like more time could've been spent on developing Laura Lamont. There were times when we are told, not shown, what Laura's passions are but I finished the book unconvince Don't you hate it when people say that the characters in a book weren't "believable?" I do, too, but this was one of the problems I had with Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. I was absolutely in love with what this novel could have been. I was drawn to the setting and the idea of a starlet who came from Nowheresville, USA. I felt like more time could've been spent on developing Laura Lamont. There were times when we are told, not shown, what Laura's passions are but I finished the book unconvinced of any of them.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gabi Coatsworth

    Terrific debut novel from Emma Straub. The writing is lovely, the plot rather like a black and white movie,and the characters believable and likeable. What more can one ask of a novel one is reading by flashlight after Hurricane Sandy has done its thing? An escape into a different world where family relationships are as real as Hollywood isn't. Terrific debut novel from Emma Straub. The writing is lovely, the plot rather like a black and white movie,and the characters believable and likeable. What more can one ask of a novel one is reading by flashlight after Hurricane Sandy has done its thing? An escape into a different world where family relationships are as real as Hollywood isn't.

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