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.
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.