This family saga follows Maria Lagana from Mussolini’s Italy to 1940s Los Angeles. As a child in Rome, her father takes her to the cinema instead of church and she develops a lifelong passion for films. When Giuseppe is arrested and imprisoned by for subversive activities against the fascist regime, Maria and her mother Maria immigrate to safety in Los Angeles.
Maria rises from the typing pool to associate producer at Mercury Pictures, a creator of B-movies. The studio is always on the verge of bankruptcy and under the thumb of the Production Code for affronting the sensibilities of the movie-going public. “I can’t show a husband and wife faithfully married for fifty years sleeping in the same bed without that two-bit Torquemada Joe Breen farting brimstone on me,” quips irreverent studio head Artie Feldman.
In his 400+ pages, author Anthony Marra alternates between post-Pearl Harbor, where Maria must register as an internal alien, and war-torn Italy. I’ve read dozens of WWII historical fiction, but Marra wrote of something I’ll probably never forget: “The pilots wear insectile oxygen masks unnecessary for low altitude bombing runs but mandated since airmen began passing out from the smell of burning flesh rising from German and Japanese cities.”
The plot was fascinating on many levels, but the author’s verbosity and level of detail were occasionally overkill. He did a wonderful job with characterization, though, particularly Artie, whose antics made me laugh, but I found his brother Ned’s anti-Christian comments offensive.
Mercury Pictures Presents is hard to rate. There were some aspects I adored, and others I didn’t care for at all. The novel included impressive historical detail, but it might have been better split into two books. In my mind’s eye, I could picture the author smiling as he typed out his witty banter, but it was too much. He spent so much effort being clever that the story suffered—it took me longer than usual to read because I had to stop and refer to my dictionary too often. Too many storylines, too much minutiae. Marra is no doubt a gifted writer. This book was just not my style. 3 stars.
** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book. The opinions in this review are my own.
Published Date: August 2022
Genre: Historical fiction