This epic story of survival and hope during WWII will have you rewinding and cheering like a Hollywood classic.
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Why I love it
Author, The Nix
The first time I heard anything about Mercury Pictures Presents, I was on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, standing at the lip of a volcano, talking with a fellow traveler. The island was São Miguel, in the Azores; the volcano was dormant; and the traveler was Anthony Marra, whom I’d just met at a literary festival a few days prior. The festival was now over, and we’d both decided to take a day to explore this wonderful place. As we appreciated the view of a roughly half-million-year-old caldera, I asked him if he was working on anything new.
“Yeah,” he said. “A novel about Hollywood.”
He nodded. “Hollywood in the forties.”
And that was all he said about that. We explored until sundown, and both returned home the next day.
I didn’t hear from him again for four years. By then he’d finished the book. I finagled myself a copy and quickly found myself spellbound. I realized that not only was Anthony a good travel buddy, he was also stupendously modest: his “novel about Hollywood” is about so much more than that. It’s a book about the ironies and hypocrisies of war, the horrors inflicted by zealotry, the absurdity of the authoritarian state, and the degradation caused by disinformation and propaganda. It’s a book about people trying to build lives at society’s margins, right the wrongs of the past, and forge real human connections. And also, somehow, amidst all this serious stuff, it’s really, really funny.
In Mercury Pictures Presents, Anthony Marra has done something extraordinary and very hard: he’s told a story that’s both intimate and sweeping, grave and humorous, timely and timeless. It’s a great read if you want to be utterly transported—or if you’re simply interested in, yes, a novel about Hollywood.
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.