Review: Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
A debut novel from a lauded, local writer fails to meet her lofty ambitions.
Wed Sep 26 2012
Photograph: Jonathan Aprea
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
By Emma Straub. Riverhead Books, $27.
Emma Straub’s recent short fiction collection, Other People We Married, was well received and praised by literary luminaries from Dan Chaon to Lorrie Moore. So it follows that the Brooklyn bookseller’s debut novel would be highly anticipated.
Unfortunately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures fails to meet the author’s lofty ambitions.
Blond, ordinary theater brat Elsa Emerson leaves picturesque Door County, Wisconsin, and transforms into alluring Golden Age Hollywood star Laura Lamont, with help from her powerful studio-exec husband. Laura embodies a heady celluloid fantasy for the moviegoing public while maintaining a quaint private life replete with three kids, a house in the Hills and a live-in nanny. Tragedy ensues, Laura’s star wanes, and the once-laureled actress becomes a relic of a bygone era, struggling to make ends meet.
Straub’s ability to blend story and character into a thoroughly pleasant brew is laudable, but nothing here transcends. Her prose sings, but it does so in a key just shy of sentimentality. Life in Pictures focuses on the inner life of an exceptional woman, and on that score it is a modest success: As a devoted mother and openhearted woman who values friendship above career, Laura is anything but the stereotypical Hollywood diva. A grand book needs more than likable characters, however, and in that regard the novel fails. Laura is an appealing protagonist who meets tragedy and success with empathy and strength, but Straub ushers her through the plot with kid gloves, allowing elegantly phrased platitudes to substitute for genuine emotional gravitas. Commenting early on about one of Laura’s films, Straub writes: “It was a simple story, with lots of flirting and costume changes.” The same could be said of this book.
You might also like
See punks, satirists, authors, playwrights and cartoonists discuss and read their work at these top spring book events. The next three months sees a wide variety spring book events. Punk legend Richard Hell makes two appearances to discuss and read from his autobiography for those who want to relive, or vicariously experience, the gritty New York of old. Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story) and Etgar Keret debut new works at the Selected Shorts series, while the minds behind the Broadway show The Motherfucker with the Hat and the Pulitzer Prize—winning Ruined share pieces of their work. RECOMMENDED: Spring in New York guide Sam Lipsyte Lipsyte's acidic and pitch-black satires keep getting better—The Ask, about a middle-aged failure called Milo, was one of the best books of 2010. His new collection, The Fun Parts, contains many of the short stories he's published in The New Yorker and elsewhere, and exhibits the crackling dialogue and casually misanthropic messes he’s so good at crafting. Thalia Book Club: Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, with Jennifer Egan, Siri Hustvedt and Margot Livesey Three well-regarded novelists, who have led lively discussions of Middlemarch and Anna Karenina for this series, guide the crowd in an analysis of an early American classic. The Believer's 10th Anniversary Party Celebrate a decade of the charming and upbeat publication (its working title was, after all, The Optimist) with writers and editors who have made its ruminations and
The Happy Ending SeriesCurated by author Amanda Stern, this series recently made the move from Chinatown’s Happy Ending Bar to the larger space at Joe’s Pub. And no wonder: Under Stern’s guidance, excellent authors read and humiliate themselves. It’s simply the most energetic series out there. 425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and E 4th St (212-539-8778, amandastern.com/happyending.html) The FSG Reading SeriesYeah, it’s kind of a publishing-nerd scene, but in the best way possible. Held upstairs at the fabled Russian Samovar (Susan Sontag hung out there, blah blah blah), this series, organized by the venerable publisher FSG, introduces you to writers established, up-and-coming and simply good. Since it functions as sort of a party, a lot of people hang around afterward, scratching their chins, getting hammered on grappa—you know, literary stuff. 256 W 52nd St between Broadway and Eighth Ave (212-257-0168) LittoralThis sporadic series—held in the atmospheric, chapel-like space in Brooklyn’s Old American Can Factory—is one of the city’s most idiosyncratic. Organizers say they're devoted to (among other things) the Gordon Lish school of writers, and if you know what that is, this might very well be the place for you. 230 3rd St at Third Ave, Gowanus, Brooklyn (212-865-7915, issueprojectroom.org/tag/littoral/) Upstairs at the SquareThese events might occur under the glaring lights of a Barnes & Noble, but their selections are almost always top-notch, the Q&A sessions in de