BB-Reader Review: "Mercury Pictures Presents"
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BB-Reader Review: "Mercury Pictures Presents"
Reader Review: "Mercury Pictures Presents"

by Lynne Lambert: Anthony Marra is no stranger to good reviews, but until I read Mercury Pictures Presents, his latest novel, I was a stranger to his work. But, if Mercury Pictures Presents introduced me to anything, it was to a cast of characters richly developed, prose, especially dialogue, that sparkles and crackles, and to a slice of WWII history that resonates today as it threatens to repeat itself. It also insists that I have some Anthony Marra catching up to do. The novel captures the big picture through the lens of a Leica camera's prints and movie studio films. It focuses on the idea of imposed boundaries and restricted opportunities for marginalized people: women, refugees, the ethically profiled, and those caught in the sticky web of politics. It is a time capsule of the 1930's-40's, but a capsule with unusual artifacts from very different places – the artificial world of Hollywood, California, and the surreal world of Fascist Italy. The Feldman brothers, twins around whom the novel circles, thrive on a love-hate relationship as they run a B level Hollywood film studio, Mercury Pictures. Artie and Ned have different visions for the future of Mercury Pictures which lead them to follow different trajectories. They may be twins, but they couldn't be more different temperamentally. The characters who revolve around them include actors, artists, technicians, financiers, producers and secretaries with larger ambitions than the typing pool. Many of them are immigrants fleeing the war in Europe and hoping for new opportunities in America. Hollywood film studios are a mecca for this fantasy. Two women stand out, one Italian and one German. Each is an emigre from the chaos of Fascist Europe. Each is fleeing personal demons. Each is able to use her skill set to manipulate the American dream. Thematically, the novel is a constant reminder that appearance and reality are rarely the same thing. The internal and external worlds of the novel are saturated with propaganda – lies to instill patriotism, lies to instill fear, lies to tell oneself, lies to tell the world, lies to bury in the past to make the present more livable. While the novel balances on a world at war, the characters within the novel each battle their own private wars. They navigate a world where one set of restrictions can become another set of restrictions, where survival often dictates betrayal, and family ties both hold and break. It is a novel of big ideas and big personalities. It is also a novel imbued with wit, delicious descriptions, intricate plot lines that could complicate but instead elucidate, and surprising historical revelations. In short, Mercury Pictures Presents deserves top billing on everyone's current reading (or even re-reading) list.

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