When a novel promises to tell the story of a famous actress from Hollywood's golden age, potential readers might fear they are in Jackie Collins/Judith Krantz territory. Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures isn't a gossipy, trashy romp. It's a smart journey alongside a strong woman. One who on occasion is weak but who is never, ever less than real.

If you're a fan of big studio era Hollywood films, it's easy to start playing the who's who game. Is Irving Green a combination of David R. Selznick and Irving Thalberg? Is Laura Lamont really Jennifer Jones? Ginger must be Lucille Ball. Susie and Johnny? Hello Judy and Mickey. If none of the previous names mean anything to you, don't worry. You don't need to know anything about Hollywood to enjoy this book.

That's because the core of this book isn't about stardom, it's about happiness. Do we know what makes us happy? Or unhappy? It's also about what it means to be yourself. Early in the book the main character is rechristened in true Hollywood-style. Laura, formerly Elsa, remains the same person but understands that she now has two distinct histories and futures. There are simply things that Elsa could do that Laura can't or won't do. It's not a psychological split, it's acknowledgement of the bargain she's tacitly made.

This book deserves a wide audience. It is enjoyable and thoughtful without being maudlin or manipulative. Laura's life isn't perfect but her choices are believable and her strength a welcome change from the old "high price of fame" routine. Highly recommended for fans of Old Hollywood, movies and intelligent fiction.

(The perfect companion book to Laura Lamont is Jeanine Basinger's insightful The Star Machine which explains in entertaining detail how the great studios manufactured stars.)

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