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The Crack Magazine

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Book of the Month: Mercury Pictures Presents

Anthony Marra’s second novel is a sweeping epic that concerns Maria Lagana, a young woman who, along with her mother, flees Mussolini’s Italy and winds up in Los Angeles. Maria subsequently lands a job with Mercury Pictures, a film studio that is a several rungs down from the likes of Warner Bros and MGM and run by a pair of feuding brothers. Years later – on the eve of America’s entry into World War II – Maria is now an associate producer at the company but is struggling to keep her professional and personal life together. Her mother is no longer speaking to her and her boyfriend, a Chinese American actor, is weighed down by the deadweight of typecasting. Also in the mix are Maria’s father – interred in Italy – and sundry other immigrants who have escaped fascism and made a life for themselves in and around the movie industry (including a German miniaturist…). At times the story can feel a tad bitty – with too many characters competing for attention at the expense of narrative drive, and tonally uneven, with high farce (albeit worthy of Wodehouse) rubbing uneasily alongside tragedy, but this is still a bravura work and a real thrill-ride. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and then immediately flipped back to my favourite chapters to read them again (basically any that involve Maria’s misanthropic aunts – absolutely hilarious). RM

Published by John Murray

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