A few weeks ago, I read and enjoyed The Vacationers by Emma Straub. And upon finishing my review, promised myself two things. One, that I would seek out more of Emma’s work, and two, that I would solve the mystery of whether or not Emma was related to Peter Straub, one of my favorites. (Have you read Lost Boy, Lost Girl? No? Stop reading this right now and go read that, I’ll wait. It was awesome, right?)
And now, here we are, two weeks later. I’ve read another of Emma’s books, and I’ve solved the mystery. Yes, Peter Straub is Emma’s father. How do I know? Because, the proud dad that he is, he commented on my blog post. SERIOUSLY. The greatest moment in my short blogging life so far.
Anyway, back to Earth. Back to Laura Lamont.
When I was a little kid, I loved to watch old movies with my dad. We loved watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly dance, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell talk incredibly fast, and Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis do crazy things. But our favorite was always Singing in the Rain, the lavish musical about the struggle in Hollywood to turn from making silent films to “talkies.” I loved the inside look at movie making and celebrity. And that’s what my mind kept going back to while I was reading about Laura Lamont. (Hey, the antagonist in Signing in the Rain is even named Lena Lamont. Just realized that!)
Laura Lamont, born Elsa Emerson in rural Wisconsin, moves to Hollywood as a teenager, hoping to act. She quickly becomes a star — she wins an Oscar, she marries one of the top guys at the studio, she’s a huge success. And then she takes some time away from the spotlight to raise her family, and struggles to regain her spot on the celebrity ladder. This is the story of how movie stars were made and ruined, and how the movie studios made the decisions that would make or break you for the rest of your career.
I loved the details in this book. I could almost picture the bustling studio lots, the enormous sound stages, the costumes, the hair, the night clubs, the cars, and the houses. ≈
And I really enjoyed reading about Laura/Elsa’s journey. But by no means is this an uplifting story. Laura’s life is filled with heartbreak: suicide, parental difficulties, divorce, death, drug addiction, depression, bi-polar disorder, and alcoholism. But her life is also built around the love that she has for her children and her husband, and her life-long friendship with TV star Ginger (a Lucille Ball type).
The ending of this book definitely surprised me, and I enjoyed the last few chapters, seeing Laura change course, and finally seem happy again.
I’ve read some criticism that this book is somewhat boring, that it isn’t an action-packed, and didn’t have a ton of plot. But it was the story of a life, and of a time. And to me, the Hollywood of the 1930s and 40s could never be boring.
I still have one more novel by Emma Straub to find. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.