LAURA LAMONT’S LIFE IN PICTURES (is my Girlfriend)Posted: September 18, 2012
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: So this is one of the few books I read TWICE before reviewing. I’m not a big re-reader as a rule, I get psyched out about the finite number of books I have to read before I die and the next thing I know I’m in the middle of a dozen random books, none of which I end up finishing because I’m too busy crying into the bathroom mirror having a breakdown about my mortality.
I read LAURA LAMONT for the first time over the Easter weekend at The Book Lady’s House when I visited. Because I wanted to finish the book before I left I ended up reading a huge chunk of it between the hours of midnight and four in the morning and you’re not supposed to do this with books that aren’t Harry Potter and the Game of Thrones. On this first read I found the novel to be thoughtful but the pace to be slow, too slow actually, but I wanted to give the book a reread because I ate Straub’s story collection Other People We Married up with a spoon. A spoon and then I ended up using my fingers to lick up the rest like the book was ice cream soup-sauce at the bottom of the bowl.
So this is a twice-read book review, the only one on this site besides Wonder. Those are my qualifications, I also know CPR and how to chop up onions so you don’t cry, I’m all kinds of qualified, let’s synopsize!
Laura Lamont begins in 1929 and follows Elsa Emerson, a nine-year old girl born in Door County, Wisconsin and raised in a family-run community theater, who takes off for Hollywood with a handsome male player in 1938 at the age of eighteen (look at those math skills, thank you second grade.) Elsa is “discovered” by movie mogul Irving Green in the 40’s and is fashioned into an Academy-award winning movie star, re-named Laura Lamont. Her fortunes rise and fall over the next three decade. There’s musical chairs with husbands, a trio of children who do not grow up how Elsa/Laura expected/intended, a career in Hollywood that has its share of rock bottoms and unexpected comebacks, and at the center of it all a family tragedy that occurred when Elsa was nine years old that shapes every aspect of her life.
There’s a lot to really like about this book. The prose is, sentence by sentence, so intelligent and insightful. The exploration of Elsa and Laura as both the same woman and different women is riveting stuff. It’s fascinating personal psychology and it rang true. I live in LA, I do Hollywood-y things, I’ve had friends and acquaintances go from being not really or kind of famous to WHOA NELLY YOU ARE FAMOUS and I thought Straub captured this way of life pitch-perfectly. All the eras we pass through are just buckets of fun, it’s like a Disneyland ride from the 20’s to the 70’s and there’s always so much to wave at on the way.
Now for a handful of quibbles. There are several characters in the book clearly modelled after stars of the age (Rooney and Garland, Lucille Ball) and I found the exact comparisons to be distracting. What I liked so much about Laura as a character was that I couldn’t quite line her up with the life of any actress of the era. I appreciated the meticulous research of the book, but I wanted to lose myself in this world and find people and places I didn’t know were there. I also thought there were issues with Elsa’s family once we left Door County- there’s a visit when Elsa/Laura wins an Academy Award and I did not understand any of the family member’s perspectives/reactions in this section, in particular Elsa’s mother whose job it is back home to run a theater but abhors the fact that her daughter has gone as far in the field of acting as a girl can get. It’s not that the reaction was unbelievable, it just wasn’t explained so I could believe it. I will say, upon rereading I did not find the middle to be slow. So that must have just been a reading-at-three-in-the-morning-at-a-time-of-day-when-I-should-have-been-sleeping thing. It HAPPENS.
Overall, it was a great read. Thoughtful and transporting. I don’t love the novel the same way I loved Straub’s shorts. But if you’re looking for a book to cuddle up with tonight or this weekend along with a bowl of popcorn (or a gross, healthy snack if you’re gross and like healthy snacks), this is your jam!
WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND IS SHE:
An old fashioned movie star.FANCIEST.
MY DATE WITH LAURA LAMONT
Getting ready for a movie premiere, picking out dresses on my bed!
Doing cover shoot for a ladies magazine hair …
And “Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille” make-up…
We get the LIGHTS part of the “Lights, Camera, Action” thanks to the magic of my iPhone flashlight app.