Emma Straub is omnipresent–everyone I know knows her, she is involved with every other literary event, blog, journal, article, scandal (the one I’m thinking had to do with whether she was too nice…jeez…) in the world, etc. It may sound like I’m complaining here, but I’m not. Emma gets attention for all the right reasons–her talent, her literary advocacy, her kindness. Emma-saturation is a good thing.
It also explains why I asked for her latest book, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, for Christmas when it isn’t something I normally would gravitate towards. There is nothing that turns me off about a novel set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, following a woman from her Midwest beginnings to her movie star heyday to her decline and comeback, but nothing that particularly grabs me, either. Of course, it is useful to read books one normally wouldn’t read and this was no exception.
What I liked best about the novel was the author’s authority. See those two words next to each other? Despite their obvious relationship, I don’t usually think about authorial authority. This novel spanned approximately fifty years, which means that it had a lot of ground to cover. When I write, every flick of a wrist requires build-up, description and its own paragraph–a tactic that certainly wouldn’t have worked here. It was the change in the character over time that was most important in this story so the exterior–the action of the novel–was delivered straight. And much of it happened off the page–a revelation for me. A whole pregnancy would occur between paragraphs. There was a careful calibration at work in which a larger arc was privileged over small moments, which kept the pace of the novel steady and broad. It was almost more like reading nonfiction than fiction in that I never questioned any of the action. The story didn’t come off as matter-of-fact or uncomplicated, though, because of how the prose was weighted–the outer world happened so that we could spend time in the inner.
This is not to say that smaller moments did not occur–although I don’t mean small but instead singular. Mapped out, though, each of them has an echo or two later in the novel–deaths that resonate in parallel, physical transformations that are done and undone. In this way, even these moments exist for the larger scale of the novel.
If I’ve made this post seem very technical, it is because I had to work so hard to find the technique in this novel–it is much easier to relax with and enjoy!