CBR-V Review #12: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Why I Read It: Because I’m sort of obsessed with old Hollywood, and I’d read a few good reviews of this (I forget where, though).

My Rating: 3 stars

Summary: Elsa Emerson is a typical little girl growing up in 1940’s Wisconsin, with dreams of becoming an actress just like the young men and women who flock to her family’s theater program each summer. An unexpected tragedy pushes her to pursue her dreams, and she moves to Hollywood as a young teenager. There, she transforms into the glamorous Laura Lamont, a woman as far removed from the all-American Elsa as possible. The novel follows Elsa/Laura through fame, heartbreak, and loss while exposing the dark underside of shiny old-school Hollywood.

My Review: If I hadn’t recently read Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, I would have liked this book a lot more. As it stands, though, this was a clearly inferior version of that story and I couldn’t help but compare the two constantly. Laura Lamont’s story felt somewhat played-out; it was easy to telegraph where the book was going. Blonde was my favorite book that I read last year, and is definitely one of my all-time favorite reads–Oates accomplished what Straub doesn’t, which is a truly gripping and absorbing account of the cost of fame.

Straub isn’t entirely unsuccessful, though. I think she covers too much time–I realize that she wanted to track the rise and fall of celebrity, but it’s consequently pretty rushed and I don’t feel like we ever really get to know Laura at any point. As a result, the emotional impact of the plot is kind of lost, because Laura is such an undefined character. Maybe that was sort of the point–there’s definitely a theme of identity running through the novel–but Laura needed to be more realistic in order to gain the reader’s empathy. Again, this is an area where Oates was incredible successful, so it was hard for me to get into it.

Straub is a good writer, though, and I loved some of her observations of the follies of Hollywood. I also liked that she could explore the aftermath of fame, which (for obvious reasons) Oates couldn’t do with Marilyn. The end of the book was definitely stronger for me, just because it felt a little fresher and less predictable.

Should You Read It? It’s definitely not a bad book, and if you’ve never read Blonde you might like it more than I did. It’s worth a read if you’re Old Hollywood-obsessed, but like I said in the review–Oates does it better.

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