Book Recommendation: Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures follows Elsa Emerson, youngest of three daughters, as she leaves Door County, Wisc., to pursue an acting career in 1930s Hollywood. We watch as Elsa sheds her childhood self, leaves the skin of that young Wisconsin girl behind, and becomes Laura Lamont, Hollywood actress. Emma Straub ambitiously guides the reader through five decades of Elsa’s life, from one name to another, through marriages and children, through love and losses. Elsa uses Laura to free herself of the losses that Elsa Emerson has suffered, to become someone free to pursue both love and success in a place far from home. As Laura, too, begins to incur her own losses, our heroine spends the rest of her life sorting out the implications of allowing both Elsa Emerson and Laura Lamont to inhabit her body.
Overall, this is a lovely story, lovingly told. My only criticism is that first section of the novel feels stiff—each word placed with so much calculation that it disrupts the story working its way along the pages. But as the novel catapults forward, the cadence falls into place, each page sailing smoothly to the next, the momentum as natural as Elsa Emerson in the Cherry County Playhouse or Laura Lamont at the Oscars.
Laura Lamont is a subtle book, wrapping you up tight, tucking in the edges until you feel both constricted and safe. Elsa Emerson is a girl defined by her losses. She becomes Laura Lamont long before she receives her new name from a Hollywood studio. As soon as she steps onto the stage of the Cherry County Playhouse, even though only a child, Elsa realizes the true possibility of what it meant to be an actress, how the ability to react as someone, to be someone else, could change your life.
Every character in every novel I read joins me in some way, embedded under my skin, sometimes known, but oftentimes unnoticed. Since I finished Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, I have felt Elsa Emerson simmering just below the surface, tentatively lifting her head and offering me the life that she chose, the possibility of being someone new. She has seeped into me, repeating her soft cadence over and over, whispering that the choices she made simply reflect what we often do without noticing. There are the moments in life that you cannot look at directly; the moments where you cannot be yourself, because the life that is yours is almost too much to bear. Elsa could not be herself, so she opened herself to being someone new. Someone who was everything she ever wanted to be, someone who was, for the time, unbroken.
We get to watch her tentatively piece together her new self, her new life, stacking one dazzling piece on top of the other. Stacking them so high we begin to hope beyond reason that they will not fall. Despite the Hollywood glamor, the moments to which we might not relate, the story begins to take a familiar form. We recognize it as a life, and a beautiful one at that.
Source: I got this book as a free ARC from the publisher.