Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub…I discovered this quiet gem on the Library’s processing shelf, and then noticed it appear on a couple of lists of upcoming fall reads.  Billed as a book for readers who loved The Paris Wife and Loving Frank sent it to the top of my to read pile. 

Laura Lamont is a fictional Golden Age actress born Elsa Emerson to a midwestern family running a  theater.  Early in the book, one of her older sisters commits suicide and Elsa finds her.  Predictably, young Elsa soon marries an actor from their theater company for her ticket to Hollywood, and then later marries a director who helps her become Laura Lamont and rise to fame.  Younger stars inevitably come along to replace her, and Laura, unable to pull a Meryl Streep,  moves to once famous starlet status.  She struggles, she survives.    An unoriginal story, retold daily in Hollywood.  You may think, what is the draw?  The story is predictable, but Laura herself is not, and the strength of this first novel is the way Straub sets up the “Hollywood” sterotype and then reveals  unexpected truths in characters who are not only what you see at first.   

I wished through the first half of the book that Laura Lamont was a real star.  One benefit of fictional biographies is that we readers have some basis for the character before we open the book.   We know them, we know about their lives, but expect the deeper details.  Laura Lamont isn’t any one particular star, so I had to count on an amalgam of older Hollywood actresses rather than one specific diva.  Several reviewers point to the real life models for supporting characters, but I didn’t see those connections as I read.  

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a nice read, not a page turner but a book that holds your attention, with characters you’ll keep thinking about.  It doesn’t come with a reader’s guide for book groups for a reason, but is certainly a book for movie buffs and readers of fictional biographies.   Enjoy it as you would a good movie.