Reading Guides



The enchanting story of a midwestern girl who escapes a family tragedy and is remade as a movie star during Hollywood’s golden age.

In 1920, Elsa Emerson, the youngest and blondest of three sisters, is born in idyllic Door County, Wisconsin. Her family owns the Cherry County Playhouse, and more than anything, Elsa relishes appearing onstage, where she soaks up the approval of her father and the embrace of the audience. But when tragedy strikes her family, her acting becomes more than a child╣s game of pretend.

While still in her teens, Elsa marries and flees to Los Angeles. There she is discovered by Irving Green, one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, who refashions her as a serious, exotic brunette and renames her Laura Lamont. Irving becomes Laura’s great love; she becomes an Academy AwardČ–winning actress-and a genuine movie star. Laura experiences all the glamour and extravagance of the heady pinnacle of stardom in the studio–system era, but ultimately her story is a timeless one of a woman trying to balance career, family, and personal happiness, all while remaining true to herself.

Ambitious and richly imagined, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is as intimate-and as bigger–than–life-as the great films of the golden age of Hollywood. Written with warmth and verve, it confirms Emma Straub’s reputation as one of the most exciting new talents in fiction.


Emma Straub is from New York City. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published by Tin House, The Paris Review Daily, Slate, and Cousin Corinne’s Reminder. She is a staff writer for Rookie. Emma lives with her husband in Brooklyn, where she also works as a bookseller.


  1. “Yes, I’m an actress,” Elsa said, except that the moment the words were out of her mouth, there on that spot on a street that existed only in the movies, she wasn’t Elsa Emerson anymore, at least not all of her. “I’m Laura Lamont” (p. 58). What does it mean for Elsa to become Laura Lamont? How does her new name change the way she feels about herself?

  2. How is Elsa’s relationship with Gordon different from Laura’s relationship with Irving, and how does Elsa/Laura’s shifting identity affect her two marriages?

  3. Laura Lamont becomes a movie star in the studio system era. How do Hollywood and the lives of its actors, producers, and directors change over the course of the novel?

  4. How do Laura’s friendships contribute to her happiness?

  5. How do sibling relationships function in the novel?

  6. What sacrifices is Laura forced to make for success? Does her ambition affect her personal happiness?

  7. How do you think the choices have changed for contemporary actresses in Hollywood? What might Laura’s life have been like if she moved to California now?