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Mercury Pictures Presents
Cover of Mercury Pictures Presents
Mercury Pictures Presents
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini’s Italy to 1940s Los Angeles—a timeless story of love, deceit, and sacrifice from the award-winning author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“A genuinely moving and life-affirming novel that’s a true joy to read.”—Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
“A gorgeous book . . . sublime.”—The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: NPR, The Guardian, Booklist
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.”
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini’s Italy to 1940s Los Angeles—a timeless story of love, deceit, and sacrifice from the award-winning author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“A genuinely moving and life-affirming novel that’s a true joy to read.”—Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
“A gorgeous book . . . sublime.”—The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: NPR, The Guardian, Booklist
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.”
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  • From the cover Sunny Siberia

    1


    When you entered the executive offices of Mercury Pictures International, you would first see a scale model of the studio itself. Artie Feldman, co-founder and head of production, installed it in the lobby to distract skittish investors from second thoughts. Complete with back lot, sound stages, and facilities buildings, the miniature was a faithful replica of the ten-acre studio in which it sat. Maria Lagana, as rendered by the miniaturist, was a tiny, featureless figure looking out Artie’s office window. And this was where the real Maria stood late one morning in 1941, hands holstered on her hips, watching a pigeon autograph the windshield of her boss’s new convertible. She’d like to buy that bird a drink.

    “It’s a beautiful day out, Art,” Maria said. “You should really come have a look.”

    “I have,” Artie said. “It made me want to jump.”

    Artie wasn’t known for his joie de vivre, but he usually didn’t fantasize about ending it all this close to lunch. Maria wondered if the Senate Investigation into Motion Picture War Propaganda was giving him agita, but no—the crisis at hand was on his head. His bald spot had finally grown too large for his toupee to conceal.

    Six other black toupees were shellacked atop wooden mannequin heads on the shelf behind his desk, where a more successful producer might display his Oscars. They were conversation starters. As in, Artie began conversations with new employees by telling them the toupees were the scalps of their predecessors.

    As far as Maria could tell, the six hairpieces were the same indistinguishable model and style, but Artie had become convinced that each one crackled with the karmic energy of the hair’s original head, unrealized and awaiting release, like a static charge smuggled in a fingertip. Thus, he’d named his toupees after their personalities: The Heavyweight, The Casanova, The Optimist, The Edison, The Odysseus, and The Mephistopheles. Artie had never felt more at home in his adoptive country than when he learned the Founding Fathers had all worn toupees, even that showboat John Hancock. The only one who hadn’t was Benjamin Franklin. And look how he turned out: a syphilitic Francophile who got his jollies flying kites in the rain.

    “Maybe the toupee shrunk,” he said, still hoping for a miracle.

    “I think you’ll need one with more coverage, Art.”

    “That’s the second time this year. Christ, when will it end?”

    “Life’s nasty and brutish but at least it’s short.”

    “Yeah? I’m not so optimistic.”

    Artie didn’t believe in aging gracefully. He didn’t believe in aging at all. At fifty-three, he maintained the same exercise regime that had made him a promising semi-professional boxer before a shattered wrist forced him into the only other business to reward his brand of controlled aggression. (He still kept a speedbag mounted to his office wall and liked to pummel it while in meetings with unaccommodating agents.) Sure, maybe he lost a step; maybe his knees sounded like a pair of maracas when he climbed stairs; maybe the boys in the mailroom let him win when he challenged them to arm-wrestling matches—but he wasn’t getting old.

    Or so Maria imagined Artie telling himself. In truth, she’d begun to worry about him. In four days, he would sit at a witness table on Capitol Hill, where he would testify alongside the heads of Warner Bros, MGM, Twentieth Century–Fox, and Paramount. It was shaping into a...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 11, 2022
    Marra’s meticulously crafted latest (after the collection The Tsar of Love and Techno) follows a host of outsiders as they try to make it through pre-WWII Italy and wartime Los Angeles with some of their morals intact. Teenage Maria Lagana and her mother leave Italy for Los Angeles after Fascists exile her father. By 1941, Maria is B-movie producer Artie Feldman’s second-in-command. Artie, a toupee-wearing loudmouth with a heart of gold (he’ll hire any down on their luck European exile), is at war with the censors, his twin brother/business partner, and the bankers with a stake in Mercury Pictures. Marra skillfully switches between small-town Sicily and a still-small Los Angeles where, post–Pearl Harbor, Maria must register as an internal enemy and her Chinese American boyfriend, Eddie, has to flee assailants who are convinced he’s a Japanese spy. The plot is intricate: Artie tries to release a political movie and fend off creditors, Maria and Eddie plot to make a film, a Berlin-born model-builder recreates her city, a Sicilian photographer flees Italy. While Marra’s pleasure in the details and argot of the past occasionally feels like overkill, this tough-minded, funny outing exemplifies what Maria calls the democratic promise of “the miniaturist’s gaze,” in which “all were worthy.” Thanks to Marra, the pleasure is contagious.

  • AudioFile Magazine Carlotta Brentan gives a fine narration of this saga of Hollywood in the '30s and '40s. With her father in prison for anti-fascist activities in Italy, Maria, along with her mother, moves to an Italian neighborhood in Los Angeles. Maria becomes a secretary for the head of Mercury Pictures, Artie Feldman. Her secret romance with an Asian actor is disrupted when part of her past, in the person of an Italian immigrant, catches up with her. Brentan slips easily in and out of a variety of accents. She keeps the family's secrets well hidden and underplays the occasionally florid text. But the story is familiar, and the characters are stereotypes, especially Feldman, who behaves like every wheeler-dealer producer from every old Hollywood movie about Hollywood. S.J.H. � AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine
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A Novel
Anthony Marra
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