It is the 1920s and a life of Hollywood glamour is the dream of farm girls everywhere, including Elsa and her older sister, Hildy. While Elsa is too young to make any concrete Hollywood plans, her sister Hildy has no doubt that Hollywood is the place for her. The glamour, the men, and the movies are a powerful pull. Unfortunately, a tragic series of events means that Hildy will never get her dream of a Hollywood life.
Elsa, on the other hand, marries Gordon, an actor at her father’s playhouse, and they both run away to Hollywood. Gordon, ensnared by the studio system of Hollywood’s early days, makes his debut in a few movies by the Gardner Brothers Studio. Elsa settles into life as a mother of two, until she meets Irving Green, an executive at Gardner Brothers. He thinks that she can succeed in the movies, and he changes her name to Laura Lamont. With this, “Elsa” is a memory and Laura sets out to conquer the movies. Sadly, a long-running successful career is more difficult than she thought, and Laura is forced to come to grips with the business of being a star.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures spans nearly the entirety of Laura’s life—from her childhood in Wisconsin to her later career in theater. She has many turns of fortune—including a second happy marriage, health woes, and difficulties with her children. She is able to endure these changes with varying degrees of success, and ultimately, remain the star that she always wanted to be.
Oh, how I wanted to love this book. I thought it would be the perfect summer read, with frothy Hollywood stars and parties, as well as a bit of the high life. Ultimately, I ended up depressed and happy that I finished the book at all.
My first problem with the novel was the writing style. While there is dialogue in the book, there is not nearly enough of it! Instead, there are huge swaths of explanation and description. This, unfortunately, is how Straub moves her story along. At times, my inner English teacher emerged and I had to put the book down, muttering to myself about “show, don’t tell”. This style stifled the flow of the novel. In some ways, it read like a list of actions. “First, she……and then…..” That is not the stuff of Hollywood dreams.
My other issue was with Laura Lamont herself. It seemed as though all of her selfish, negative actions were somehow excusable (the book was written in first person point of view) and most other characters had some huge character flaws. Her older sister, Josephine, was a stick-in-the-mud. Her mother was an anti-Semite (there is nothing in the novel that tells you why). Her first husband is a boring drunk. . I felt manipulated to hate these characters, even though I had little sense of their back-stories. About the only character that is perfect is Laura (in her own mind) and her second husband, Irving. She also idealizes her dead sister, Hildy, long after the impact of her death should have been dulled by time and acceptance
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures did do some things well. The old studio system in Hollywood was presented in a way that you could understand the oppressive systems that young talents were forced to worth within. The talented actors and actresses were treated like puppets, only able to do what the studio bosses dictated to them. In addition, I did enjoy reading about Laura’s happy second marriage and her early relationship with her children.
Ultimately, this novel is more sad than a slice of the glamorous life. With an unsympathetic narrator and an awkwardly written style, I would pass on it.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina