Title: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures
Author: Emma Straub
Publication date: September 4, 2012
Hardcover: 320 pages
Elsa Emerson (Laura Lamont), the youngest of the three sisters, is born in 1920. Her family lives in small town Door County, Wisconsin and host a summer theater in their barn. Every year, little Elsa dreams of little else than of appearing onstage–a real stage that is. Her formative years are spent acting out small parts on the family’s theater, where she lives for little else but the approval of her father and the audience.
The turning point in Elsa’s life comes about after the tragical suicide of her older sister. Elsa never fully recovers from this blow, and she copes by immersing herself into the family’s theater plays with added zeal. It is in one of these plays that a visiting actor convinces Elsa to marry him and start a new life in Los Angeles. Still in her teens, Elsa accepts and starts a new life in Hollywood.
At first she and her husband play a few parts in small movies, but once Laura becomes pregnant, her husband starts pressuring her to abandon her acting career. Insecure by nature, Elsa submits and soon becomes merely her husband’s shadow.
Everything changes when Elsa accompanies her husband to a Hollywood party where she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood. Though pregnant at the time, it is evident that Irving is captivated by her. He chats with her a bit, and playfully renames her “Laura Lamont.”
When Elsa’s strained marriage eventually deteriorates, she decides to immerse herself back into acting. She accepts a contract position under Irving’s studio and is soon refashioned into a serious, exotic brunette. This time, Irving officially changes her name to Laura Lamont.
Sparks fly, and it is not long before the new Laura Lamont falls deeply in love with Irving. They marry and raise a son with Laura’s two girls from her previous marriage. For the first time, Laura knows what happiness in marriage and fulfillment in a dream career feel like. She even becomes an Academy Award-winning actress— a genuine movie star.
For a while, all is well and we are tempted to believe that this novel is little else than a quick chick-flick read.
Except for one thing. This is not the end of the story…
Let me start by saying that I adored this book!
The author’s selection of words makes you shiver with delight. You know that sensation you get when you come across a particularly awesome word that is rarely used but just fits so well in that sentence? And then you wonder why other authors can’t think up of awesome words like that for their descriptions? THAT is the exact same feeling reading this book gives you.
The writing style is simply delicious.
That said, another thing I would like to commend the author is for developing a complex character that makes the reader struggle to decide whether to like or hate. While I felt like rooting for Laura’s dream career for most of the book, there were times when I simply felt like I wanted to shake some sense into her.
I’ve read other reviews about this book, and many were negative. The most common complaint I came across was that Elsa’s (Laura Lamont) character was bland.
Well, let me tell you…Laura’s character is anything BUT bland!
I think what most people failed to realize was that Laura’s character had serious flaws which made her come across as apathetic at times. But that wasn’t it at all. Laura’s apparent apathy is what happens when you allow your disturbed childhood to stunt your emotional growth.
Let me explain.
- Laura’s character demonstrates an inability to express opinions and make decisions on her own. Whether that be due to a deeply rooted insecurity, emotional immaturity, or both, it’s hard to say. There are several instances where both these weaknesses are demonstrated.
Because her first husband thought her place was a stay-at-home mom, Laura doesn’t even think to protest or explain how important acting is to her.
Because Irving insists she will look more beautiful as a brunette than a blond, she dies her hair. Although at first hesitant to do so, she never voices out her opinion.
Because Irving is used to grander luxurious than Laura has ever dreamed of, she never thinks to explain she feels a little overwhelmed by her new “rich girl” status once she marries him. While Laura would prefer to take the short walk to work, Irving won’t hear of it and insists on having her chofer take her.
- Another troubling thing about Laura is her lack of connection with reality.
Is as to be expected after her divorce, Laura suffers great agony and disillusionment. But what Laura fails to realize is that while marrying a good man (Irving) may help heal HER earlier wounds, that won’t necessarily cure her children’s own personal wounds by default. An example of this is her youngest son, Irving Jr., who deals with depression the entirety of his life. This even leads her son to attempt suicide at one point. When this happens, it takes Laura completely by surprise. What does this indicate to you, as the reader?
It wasn’t that Laura was selfish. She genuinely loves her children and goes out of her way to care for them. The problem is that Laura missed the red flags because her method of coping as a child was to ignore her real feelings. To pretend that nothing was happening.
And frankly, this is sad. It’s sad because I know many genuinely good people who have genuinely good intentions for those they love, but they simply don’t have the emotional maturity to handle life.
I also think it can be argued that the author subtly hints that perhaps for Laura, acting is not so much an expression of art, but another one of her ways of escaping from reality.
But you know what else I see in Laura? I see a woman who suffered greatly and maybe didn’t always make the best decisions…but she tried.
When her beloved sister committed suicide, she made the decision to keep living.
When her first marriage failed, she made the decision to allow herself to fall in love again.
When she finally realized how badly her children were hurting, she set everything else aside and focused on loving them with all she had.
And THAT, my friend, is why I love this book. Laura is an inspiration for hurting women who feel it’s too late to make good in their life. She’s a reminder that there is no such thing as perfect people—only people who try and those who don’t.