How many young women have stepped off a cross-country bus onto the streets of Los Angeles, dreaming of a new life? Though the tale may be familiar, Emma Straub's fantastic debut novel Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures brings fresh sparkle to the journey. We meet Elsa Emerson in 1938 in her bucolic Wisconsin hometown, where a childhood tragedy plants the seeds of our heroine's ambition and perhaps propels her toward the coast. ''Elsa was going to do great things in California she was going to do enough for two whole lives,'' Straub writes. ''All Elsa cared about was arriving. She was going to step off the bus and into the waiting arms of the world.''
Straub stays close to Elsa for the better part of five decades after she enters this new world, chronicling the many twists and turns of fate that transform sprightly blond Elsa Emerson into Laura Lamont, exotic brunet movie star. There is plenty of glitz and glamour as Laura's career skyrockets, and Straub meticulously depicts the Hollywood of that golden era the pristine swimming pools, the opulent Beverly Hills homes, the Oscar-worthy gowns. But Straub is less interested in the bells and whistles that come with fame than its emotional repercussions for her leading lady. As the years pass and Laura has a family, finds and loses love, and watches her star dim, she faces a constant struggle to determine just how much of Elsa Emerson remains inside the Laura Lamont she has become. Straub has no such problem: She's drawn a stunningly intimate portrayal of one woman's life. A-