Elsa Emerson grows up in small town Wisconsin, in a household that is also the local little theater. Every summer, young actors come and stay with the family and put on shows in the converted barn, inspiring a love of show business in the two younger sisters. She makes her escape from Door County by marrying an aspiring actor who is heading for Hollywood, a move that becomes a misery to her but also the vehicle to the life she wants. When she meets studio manager Irving Green, he turns out to be the answer to her dreams, both personal and professional. He changes her from blonde Elsa to brunette Laura Lamont. For awhile, her life is perfect. But life doesn’t offer nicely packaged happy endings like movies do. Laura’s life takes a lot of twists and turns before it’s done.
The book is interesting; the second section is set during the days of the Hollywood studio system, where the studio took over every aspect of the actor’s life. Thinly disguised celebrities fill the book; Irving Green is obviously Irving Thalberg (although Laura is not Norma Shearer); Laura’s best friend is Lucille Ball; Jack Warner, Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland also appear, all with fictitious names. A parallel thread to Laura’s life is the changes that take place in Hollywood through the decades.
“Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” isn’t Emma Straub’s first book, but it is her first novel. As such, it shows some deficits. Laura- all the characters, in fact- come off rather two dimensional, although perhaps that is intentional- pictures are, after all, two dimensional. But I never felt any real attachment to Laura. She’s not unpleasant in any way, but neither is she magnetic. I wanted to love this novel- old Hollywood is an interest of mine- but while I liked it, I did not love it.