Friday, November 23, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Emma Straub for Isthmus Daily Page, Madison’s weekly news and arts website. My interview was part of Isthmus’s promotion of the Wisconsin Book Festival and you can find it here. In preparation for the interview I read Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, Straub’s first novel, which was released a few months ago. Straub was fun to talk to and very engaging. The book is a sweet story of a woman’s experience in the Hollywood studio system in the 1930’s through the 1960’s. I liked Laura Lamont, especially her plucky Midwestern optimism, but the story didn’t make a strong impression on me; it was at times repetitive, as if Straub didn’t quite trust herself to make her point. Maybe it wasn’t fair to Straub that I was reading it alongside Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel, which is a masterpiece by a mature writer at the top of her game.

Straub says that she based the plot loosely on the life of actress Jennifer Jones. Like Laura Lamont, Jennifer Jones grew up in the Midwest and married a studio executive (David O. Selznick). We talked a bit about other recent books that are fictionalized retellings of famous people’s lives (e. g., American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, and Untold Story by Monica Ali) but it seems like Straub used Jones’s experiences more for inspiration than as a template for a novel.

It’s fun to talk to writers about their books but I end up looking at the reading experience differently afterwards. I try always to write these blog posts 100% from the point of view of the reader, and if I have a nice impression of the writer in my head, does it make me a little less blunt in my analysis? (I’m not thinking specifically of Straub here, but just of the interview/blogging process.) I don’t know. I don’t get a lot of chances to talk to writers (!) so in some ways this line of thinking is like wondering if I would get airsick on Air Force One.

(Book 30, 2012)


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