Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—BookPage
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.
Written with intelligence, wit, and an exhilarating sense of possibility, Mercury Pictures Presents spans many moods and tones, from the heartbreaking to the ecstatic. It is a love letter to life’s bit players, a panorama of an era that casts a long shadow over our own, and a tour de force by a novelist whose work The Washington Post calls “a flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles.”
Pre WWII the movie industry was in a state of flux. Many of the industry leaders were immigrants escaping the turmoil that was Europe. The first world war ended and storm clouds of the second world war were on the horizon. Many immigrants from Italy and Germany went to the Los Angeles area where their lack of understanding or speaking English was not a deterrent to a good-paying job.
Mercury Pictures was a B-film company making many soon-to-be-forgotten films. Hiring good production people was almost impossible. The individuals in this tome were struggling to make it in the business. The entire cadre of production and actors was contained within a five-mile area of Hollywood. There is a number of main characters who fade in and out of the storyline. Maria Lagana (never given a title because she is a woman) is an “associate producer” who carries the main workload throughout the novel.
The idealism of some of the characters within the government was to control the thinking of the American people. Prior to making a movie, the script was required to be sent to the motion picture censors who had to approve the film before production. Many topics including foreign governments and potential espionage were summarily excluded from production.
I found the book very enlightening on so many levels. Foreigners gravitated to Hollywood because of the motion picture industry. Scripts were written which could have been viewed as subversive so freedom of expression and freedom of speech is curtailed because of the potential for foreign influences. Censorship is rampant.
My overall impression was that the material is well researched and written and could be a history lesson. Of course, during those times after WWII our country was paranoid regarding communism and other foreign ideas. The best way to control these ideas at the time was to clamp down on those in the motion picture industry. An interesting lesson in government intervention. 4 stars – CE Williams
Rosepoint Publishing: Four Stars
Genre: Historical Italian Fiction Literary Sagas, Historical Literary Fiction
Print Length: 430 pages
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Link: Mercury Pictures Presents [Amazon]
The Author: Anthony Marra is the New York Times bestselling author of The Tsar of Love and Techno and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and longlisted for the National Book Award. His new novel, Mercury Pictures Presents, will be published in July 2022.
©2022 CE Williams – V Williams