“Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” by Emma Straub (2012) – 304 pages
I earlier reviewed favorably Emma Straub’s short story collection “Other People We Married”. Now she has published her first novel, “Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures”. I wish I could say that her new novel is a success, but there are problems with it which prevented it from entirely capturing and holding my interest.
As the title indicates, the novel traces Laura Lamont’s life from her childhood through her Hollywood movie career and after.
In the 1920s and the 1930s, the Hollywood movie industry became huge. The studios needed many new actors and actresses to fill the over 800 movies that were being made each year. Young performers such as Judy Garland and Barbara Stanwyck who already had some stage experience as children were in demand and had a leg up on others who didn’t have that childhood training. In ‘Laura Lamont’, our young girl’s parents own and run the local Cherry County Playhouse in Door County in eastern Wisconsin, so she appears in shows at an early age and thus is comfortable on stage. When she runs away from home and heads to Hollywood as a teenager, she is ready.
While many Hollywood novels have characters that are larger than life in their talents, their loves, and their excesses, here Laura Lamont is more the ordinary small town young woman achieving and confronting her success. All events and characters are seen through her eyes, and eventually I found her point of view mundane and less than scintillating. Up until her Hollywood success, I was carried along in the novel with the momentum of her screen career. However Laura Lamont reaches the peak of her career already in the first half of the novel, and after that there is the long slow winding down and I lost interest. She also tediously keeps repeating the same points in her interior monologue which makes up most of the novel.
In a lengthy chapter Laura returns home to Door County for her father’s funeral. This could have been presented in many exciting over-the-top ways, the Hollywood star returning to her small town roots. Here we mainly get tiresome introspection. There were no scenes earlier in the novel that showed any special closeness between the father and daughter. Thus when during the funeral trip home, Laura has some insights into her father’s life, these insights seem unearned and unnecessary.
Also there are just altogether too many deaths and funerals and near-deaths in the novel, and very few bright colorful scenes that you would expect in a Hollywood novel.
“Laura Lamont” is not a bad novel; it is just not as lively and exciting as a Hollywood novel could be. As a personality, Laura Lamont is relentlessly average and dull. I would have preferred a more vivid main character, scandals and all. Perhaps if instead of depicting the actress’s entire life, we were presented only with a few dramatic scenes, the novel would have come alive.
Emma Straub seemed here to be going through the motions of writing a novel; next time she should find a subject that intensely interests her. I’ve read several novels this year, ‘Perla’ by Carolina de Robertis and ‘Underground Time’ be Delphine de Vigan come immediately to mind, where the author’s intensity pulls the reader in.