Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-02
- Reviewer: Staff
In her debut novel (after her early-2012 story collection, Other People We Married), Straub weaves together snapshots of the long, large life of Elsa Emerson, the youngest daughter in a family of quintessentially blonde, corn-fed Midwestern sisters living in Door County, Wis. In the late 1920s, the family runs a summer playhouse, and Elsa’s first role, as a flower girl in Come Home, My Angel, coincides with a family tragedy. These two events shape her passion for acting and her desire to slip into a different character than that of the good, homespun girl she is. At 17, a few years before WWII, she moves to Los Angeles and finds Hollywood the perfect stage for her metamorphosis into Laura Lamont, a dark-haired, serious-eyed starlet who carries with her an air of mystery and gravity completely apart from her idyllic Midwestern upbringing. Written in a removed prose, Straub brings Elsa to life with the detached analysis of an actor examining a character, exemplifying Elsa’s own remote relationship to her identity. Through marriages, births, deaths, and career upheavals, Elsa and Laura coexist, sometimes uneasily—until Elsa learns to reconcile her two selves. An engaging epic of a life that captures the bittersweetness of growing up, leaving home, and finding it again. Agent: Jenni Ferrari-Adler, Brick House. (Sept.)
A star is born
In an engaging first novel, Emma Straub tells the story of a small-town girl who hits the big time in 1940s Hollywood. We asked Straub a few questions about being a first-time novelist and the double-edged sword of fame.
Was there a particular Hollywood star who inspired Laura?
I first had the idea for the book after reading the obituary for actress Jennifer Jones, so yes, in that sense, absolutely. I stayed away from Jones’ films and biography, though, because I wanted Laura to be purely fictional. There are other characters in the book who are modeled on real figures—Laura’s friend Ginger has a lot in common with Lucille Ball, for example—but I wanted to make sure that my characters were my own, and not flimsy reproductions of historical figures.
Publishing a first novel might not be as glamorous as starring in a blockbuster, but it’s a big deal. What was your reaction when you found out that Laura Lamont would be published?
I burst into tears. My husband burst into tears. I’m pretty sure my cats burst into tears. When Riverhead made their pre-emptive offer, I was sitting in a gorgeous room at the Breakers in Palm Beach, just after speaking to my mother-in-law’s book club. There was a pianist playing nearby. I’ll never forget that day, never.
Your descriptions of Door County make it sound idyllic, but Elsa can’t wait to escape. You grew up in New York City—have you ever longed to chuck it and go for the small-town life?
On a daily basis! I lived in Wisconsin for three years, and I miss so much about it. The post office! The grocery store! Everything is so much easier. But I am a city girl at heart, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I left for good.
Elsa finds fame and fortune as “Laura,” but is increasingly torn between who she was and the star she has become. Do you think she would have to make the same sacrifices in Hollywood today?
Well, right now we’re in the wake of the Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson cheating debacle, and so, yes! I think actresses, and people in the public eye, are still very much forced to behave in odd, unnatural ways. If anything, it’s harder now. I think Laura would have had to make many of the same sacrifices, and some additional ones. I don’t envy famous people, that is for sure. I think it’s a very difficult life, having people watch you all the time.
Do you have any celebrity obsessions or fascinations?
How much time do you have? I love the movies, and movie stars, and gossip magazines, all of it. I read all the gossip websites, even though I know it’s a horrible invasion of privacy. I can’t help it—the stories are just so good, you know? And my favorite thing to do in the middle of the afternoon is to go to the movies. I don’t care whether it’s a high school dance movie or a restored classic at the Film Forum, I love them all.
Would you rather hang out with your favorite author or your favorite Hollywood actress?
Hmmm, that’s hard! Can I have a dinner party with Jennifer Egan, Lorrie Moore, Nicole Holofcener, Lisa Cholodenko, Lena Dunham, Catherine Keener, Brit Marling and Julianne Moore instead? I think we’d have a grand old time, and probably drink too much, and all give each other excellent book recommendations.
Read a review of Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures.