Monday, December 26, 2022

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Mercury Pictures Presents
by Anthony Marra
Read by Carlotta Brentan
14 hours
Published August 2022 by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father’s arrest.

Fifteen years later, on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won’t speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese American actor, can’t escape the studio’s narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria’s only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy.

Over the coming months, as the bright lights go dark across Los Angeles, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father’s past threatens Maria’s carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father’s fate—and her own.

My Thoughts: 
Because I did what I so often did, I jumped into this one solely based on the title and author, without regard to the summary. So it wasn't what I expected or even what I thought I was getting in the beginning of the book. 

We begin thinking that this book is the story of the battle between two brothers (the creative force, Artie, and the money man, Ned) who own a studio that puts out B-movies and is in danger of going under. That storyline, as it turns out, is merely the scaffolding that the rest of the book will be built upon. The book, as it turns out, is the story (and backstory) of a group of immigrants whose lives intertwine with the studio. Maria, who came to the U.S. with her mother after her attorney father was sent to confino by Mussolini's government; Eddie Liu, who can't get a leading role until he can because he's allowed to play the bad guy in propaganda movies; Anna Weber, who lost everything when she refused to become the architect of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; and Vincent Cortese, photographer, who spends all of his life in the U.S. being someone other than who he had been in Italy. 

It's an epic work, that, through Marra's way of storytelling, spans both just a few years and decades, blending humor and darkness. The New York Times reviewer did seem to have an issue with this combination. But isn't that the way of life, that even in the darkest of times, there are things that are humorous? Through its cast, Marra is able to tell a number of stories of war, immigration, propaganda, and racism. There's a lot here to digest and I think it would make a great book for book clubs, in that regard. I did, maybe partly because I was listening (although Carlotta Brentan is very good), sometimes find myself lost as to where the story was and how things tied together. I didn't entirely ever find my way back from that. But even taken as individual stories, there was enough here to keep my interest; and, in the end, I really enjoyed this book and the way Marra ended it. 

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