Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

After a sudden tragedy jolts young Elsa Anderson’s happy life at her family’s summer playhouse in 1930s Wisconsin, her father tells her that she has two choices. She can either tell people the truth about her sister Hildy, or she can pretend everything is okay.

” ‘Just like in the play,’ he said. “You’re an actress now.’ Despite it all, Elsa could swear there was praise in her father’s voice.  It was good for all of them to remember that there were actors in the world, people whose job it was to pretend. For Elsa, there was no other option after that moment — she saw her future as clearly as she saw the water of Green Bay. Even if she wasn’t happy on the inside, the outside could be something else entirely. There was always another character to play.”

Even though Elsa will assume many roles over the next 50 years — wife, mother, Hollywood star, former leading lady — she really plays just two parts. She is blonde, cream-and-corn Elsa Anderson, and she is sultry actress Laura Lamont, “conjoined twins linked in too many places to ever separate.”

How Elsa/Laura tries to reconcile her two selves over 50 years is at the heart of Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (Riverhead, digital galley via NetGalley), a novel I wanted to love but just kind of liked. Reading it was like watching an old movie on TV, pleasant in its familiarity but a passive experience all the same.

Straub’s writing is lovely, but once Elsa/Laura arrives in LA as a 19-year-old bride, her life follows a predictable arc. Of course, her first marriage to another young actor isn’t going to last. Of course, she’s going to attract the attention of studio head Irving Green, who makes her a star and his wife. Of course, she’s going to live in Beverly Hills with her three children, a faithful maid, and a best friend, Ginger, who’s like Lucille Ball. Of course, she’s going to turn to pills to ease her anxiety. Of course, her son grows up troubled, etc., etc.

The first part of the book, charting Elsa’s girlhood at the Cherry County Playhouse, is what all of  it should have been. In describing Elsa’s rambling family house, her gregarious father and stoic mother, flamboyant sister Hildy and secretive sister Josephine, as well as the troupe of hormone-fueled young actors gathered for the summer in the verdant countryside, Straub gives readers something real and heartfelt. After that, the story unreels as an imitation of life, the Golden Age of Hollywood with characters from Central Casting.

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