Monday, July 1, 2013

'Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures'

When I was about eleven years old, I found my 'bliss'.  I was sitting on the floor in front of the television, when my father turned the station to Oregon Public Broadcasting.  There before me was pure magic: a grainy, jerky, black and white film without a voice, people wearing white makeup, a story so soaked in innocence that I was stunned.  I think it starred Mary Pickford, the queen of the screen.  In that moment, I fell in love with silent films and I've been in love with them ever since.  So much, in fact, that I learned everything I could about them; the cast, the crew, the director, the writers.  The whole darn history.  And even though I'm older now, I'm not so jaded; I look forward to 'Silent Sunday' on Turner Classic Movies every single week.

I was lucky that most of those silent stars were still alive when I was a young girl.  They were writing autobiographies (which I lapped up), they were guests on game shows, they were making comebacks in some of the weirdest movies I've ever seen, except for 'Sunset Boulevard'; pure brilliance!  I stayed up late just to watch Charlie Chaplin receive an honorary Oscar.  I loved them.  And I love them, still.  And my favorite silent film star?  Rudolph Valentino (you can stop laughing now).  When the silent film, 'The Artist', won a Best Picture Oscar a year ago, I whooped with joy and spilled popcorn all over the floor.

Any novel pertaining to the silent era immediately grabs my attention.  Clive Barker wrote 'Coldheart Canyon', a bizarre novel about a Hollywood mansion haunted by the ghosts of silent stars; I loved it.  Thomas Tryon's two Hollywood novels, 'Crowned Heads' and 'All That Glitters' have a place of honor on my bookshelf.  

But then we have novels about the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood that really don't quite ring true.  And so it is with 'Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures' by Emma Straub.  

I found it hard to stay with the story.  I expected more from it, but it just didn't deliver on its early promise.

Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, is born in Door County, Wisconsin, where her father and mother run a Summer stock theater.  There, Elsa learns the fine art of acting while earning her father's approval.  But when tragedy strikes, acting takes center stage in Elsa's life.  While still a teen, Elsa marries another actor, and they move to Los Angeles.  She becomes a star, while his once-promising career collapses.  After Elsa falls in love with a powerful film executive, they marry, she changes her name and hair color, and shoots to stardom under the careful watch of her new husband.  But one can only stay on top for so long, and Laura finds herself adrift in a sea of troubles.  Her downward spiral almost lands her in a mental hospital, until she finds the courage and strength to remember who she really was:  Just a simple girl from Wisconsin.

Although the story centers around Elsa/Laura, I really wanted to learn more about the era in which she lived; the industry scandals and gossip, the private lives of famous actors and actresses.  But it was all Elsa/Laura...and boringly so.  The story never really 'took off' for me, and, try as I might, I just couldn't get very enthused about it.  There was no color, no excitement.  All interior, centered around one character.  It just went on and on, with no clear direction.

I sincerely hope that Straub's next book is a bit more exciting.  

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