Epically entertained ... It retains the noirish sensibility of the era ... Readers of his previous fiction...know that Marra is a masterful writer with characters that are deep, true and often very funny. But Mercury Pictures Presents is as much a novel about an era as it is a novel about its characters ... It asks the big questions ... And it answers, as all good fiction does, by enthralling its readers with stories that are personal, alive and heartbreaking.
The author’s fans...will recognize his elegant resolution of tangled disasters, his heartbreaking poignancy, his eye for historical curiosities that exceed the parameters of fiction. But the emotional range here is narrower, the record of human cruelty more subtle. And if Mercury Pictures Presents doesn’t generate the impact of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, well, that’s an impossibly high standard ... A complicated novel ... Marra unspools this period comedy with so much old-time snappy wit that Mercury Pictures Presents should come with popcorn and a 78-ounce Coke. But then, suddenly, the scene shifts to a far darker era — the first in a series of maneuvers indicating the thin membrane separating humor and horror in this novel ... With these tangled events, Marra demonstrates his remarkable ability to capture the intricate cruelties of political and social collapse ... The novel’s most fascinating move is the way it teases out the complications of realism ... This novel isn’t sustained merely by its surreal images, its archival discoveries or even its sharp critique of American hypocrisy. What matters, ultimately, is Marra’s ear for catching the subtle grace notes in ordinary people’s lives. If reading Mercury Pictures Presents sometimes feels like watching several movies simultaneously, you can trust that the novel will eventually resolve into focus with a moment of radical compassion that emits no more noise than a sigh.
Elegant ... We’ve met Feldman’s type before, in just about every comically cockeyed portrayal of show business ever. And Marra, whose sleek, darting sentences are sharp enough that we don’t mind, sets us up with a few glimpses of the familiar ... But just when we think we know the story Marra is telling here, he pulls the rug out from under us ... Marra’s sublime dexterity brings these worlds into a natural-seeming alignment, but it also sets up a tonal disparity the novel never fully resolves ... Mercury Pictures Presents [has a] fleet, often funny, narrative omniscience, an effervescent mood that remains even in its bleakest moments and settings ... Then again, this indeterminacy may be the point. That Marra’s novel doesn’t square into being either a portrait of Fascist horror or a rambunctious tale of immigrants propping up a studio during what might remain even now Hollywood’s most tumultuous decade ever, but rather remains something of both, is its ultimate strength: its way of asserting itself, without ever needing to declare itself, on the side of art.
It seems right and proper for a novel concerning World War II-era Italian fascism to highlight how easy it is for all of us to fall prey to false romantic narratives. All the better if the author is Anthony Marra ... He can conjure both a bleak Italian hut and a gossipy American household, both a farcically bickering pair of siblings and the interior world of a Chinese American actor. He also knows exactly where to insert historical anecdotes and when to opt for pure invention, weaving it all together with witty asides ... The first third of Mercury feels aptly cinematic, whirling readers through half a dozen scenes so varied that they feel like a passel of movie trailers, more evocative than narrative ... Is this too pat a conclusion, an affirmation of the American passion for happy endings as manipulative as the faux authenticity that sets Eddie on edge? Marra has, though, been smart enough to sprinkle his novel with unhappier endings, so that when this one good thing happens it feels earned, even … authentic ... Although Mercury Pictures Presents is uneven and downright discursive in many places, its cinematic scope ultimately achieves a grandeur beyond its particulars. Besides, we could all use a grand narrative now and then, especially now, when such a thing seems to recede past the horizon with every passing day.
A sweeping book ... Marra is a deft and convincing writer with a sharp turn of phrase and a dark sense of humour that ignites every page ... Marra’s biting commentary elevates it to more than a beach read. Those who already know the Californian-dwelling Marra from his first two books...will relish his return, which took him seven years to research and write and which will win him committed new fans and, if there is any literary justice, prizes.
It is that voice that sets [Marra] apart and above: a quiet, compassionate, observational wit that he uses both to highlight essentially tragic circumstances and to soothe them. While that voice remains and speaks throughout his latest novel, Mercury Pictures Presents, there’s an antic quality here that we’re not used to from Marra. It’s almost as though he received editorial notes equivalent to a woman being told to smile more ... though, I’ll state up front that, in the end, Marra melted my heart, and I view Mercury as a worthy addition to the author’s canon ... Particularly early on, the narration is rife with extended, sardonic descriptions, no more so that when we’re spending time with Maria’s great aunts, who serve as a kind of comic chorus. Characters banter in sharpened one-liners, which is perhaps fitting in the Hollywood studio, but it’s there among the Old-World Italians, too. At times, it feels like we’ve stumbled into an Aaron Sorkin script ... And yet — and yet — the ineffable magic of Marra’s prose, its ability to break his reader’s heart with the lightest touch, is everywhere. Each cameo character is completely human ... showcases imperfect people in an imperfect world groping to connect, all from an author who continues to pen perfection.
Outstanding ... Marra's belief that hope and the human spirit can triumph over hatred and cynicism never falters. He has crafted a dazzling historical novel that sparkles with buoyant humor and resilient characters, in spite of the atrocities that entangle them ... Mercury Pictures Presents is a marvelously smart and delightfully absorbing novel from a writer who continues to one-up himself, and appears to take great joy in doing so.
Marra skillfully alternates between Hollywood and Italy, dexterously weaving the two threads together when a young man, Nino Picone, arrives at Mercury Pictures fresh from San Lorenzo with news of Giuseppe. Marra’s prose is fluid and sprightly; each sentence is imbued with wit and heart and dances to its own internal rhythm. The dialogue is crisp and filled with ripostes and underline-worthy bon mots. The characters are simultaneously larger than life and all too human, utterly memorable. The historically iconic settings are brought sensuously to life by Marra’s cinematic eye. Marra has ascended to the top of the literary ranks.
An energetic, wildly comical tale that's bursting with copious historical details. Amid all the action and plot twists, it's also a serious examination of immigration and xenophobia, identity and impersonation, and art, propaganda and censorship ... Marra glides effortlessly between a number of characters and their pasts, presents and futures, all of which are complicated by World War II ... While Marra's many threads are intricately woven, they can occasionally be overwhelming, and the novel is at its strongest when focused on Maria, Vincent and their immediate families. Despite some meandering, Mercury Pictures Presents is full of passion, energy and exuberance, just like the Hollywood world it portrays.
Meticulously crafted ... The plot is intricate ... 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.
This one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages ... The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.