The titular character in the superb Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures was born Elsa Emerson in 1920s Wisconsin: a blue-eyed, curvy blonde whose farmer parents also ran the county theater. Elsa was destined to be on stage, starring in numerous local productions. After a tragedy befalls the family, Elsa finds even greater escape in acting, marrying a young actor passing through town on his way to Hollywood. Her husband struggles in the burgeoning studio system, but when Elsa meets his boss Irving Green at a party, he rechristens her Laura Lamont and sets about making her famous.
It doesn’t take long. The screen loves Laura, and as her star rises, her husband’s fades. They divorce and she marries Irving, completing her transformation from small-town girl to glamorous 1940s Hollywood icon. Still, she wonders, was she really Laura Lamont, or was the wide-eyed girl from Wisconsin still inside somewhere?
“She was always two people at once, Elsa Emerson and Laura Lamont. They shared a body and a brain and a heart, conjoined twins linked in too many places to ever separate. Elsa wondered whether it would always be that way, or whether bits of Laura would eventually detach themselves, shaking off Elsa like a discarded husk.”
This is Emma Straub’s first novel, and it is a marvel. Her silken writing conjures images of old Hollywood, all red lipstick and Glenn Miller, but even more impressively, Straub paints a vivid portrait of a woman torn between her desire for fame and what she must leave behind to win it.