From a young age, Elsa Emerson didn't just dream of becoming a famous actress; she was certain it would happen. A family tragedy doesn't get in her way, but simply gives her more drive to escape, sending her to Hollywood, a new name and an Oscar-winning performance. But in Emma Straub's first novel, the end of the story isn't about the Hollywood finish, but about life beyond, with all the personal loose ends left unraveled in the pursuit of fame. What could be period melodrama becomes a fascinating and fully realized exercise in literary character, with a missing person driving the plot, and a main character who lives her life as if she's playing a part. Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures reminds me of Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife in the way it goes behind an iconic shell to find the true person within, and also because it's a rewarding read that has stayed with me long after I finished the story.