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Reviews of Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Mercury Pictures Presents

A Novel

by Anthony Marra

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra X
Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2022, 432 pages

    Jun 2023, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

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, New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

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 façade, 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."

Sunny Siberia

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Mercury Pictures Presents features a vast cast of characters—some stars, some supporting actors. Which character did you identify with the most? Why?
  2. How does the novel treat its bit players? What do you think Marra was trying to say about whose stories matter? How did he illustrate this point?
  3. Themes of exile and imprisonment recur throughout the novel. How do different characters experience exile, both at home and abroad? How are invisible prisons different from real ones?
  4. What does Annunziata's suitcase represent to her when she fills it with Italian soil and brings it to America? How does this change when she passes it on to Maria? When Maria passes it to Eddie?
  5. Which of Mercury Pictures' fictional...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Mercury Pictures Presents.
You can see the full discussion here.

Both Maria and her mother keep their emotions inside. How does this help them survive? How does it hurt them?
As a daughter of the Greatest Generation, I saw many characteristics in the characters that I observed in my own parents. Theirs was a generation focused on survival. First, during the Great Depression and then World War II. Like my parents here in ... - JHSiess

Did you learn anything new about the time period covered in the novel? Did anything surprise you?
Was unaware of the movie studio's involvement in war propaganda. I was well aware of the Japanese interment camps, but much to my embarrassment, I was not aware of the Italians and many other foreigner's travel or employment restrictions. - caroln

How do you feel different characters experience exile, both at home and abroad? How do invisible prisons differ from real ones?
Marra did an excellent job exploring the themes of exile and confinement. Several characters experience both emotional and physical exile, detached from their loved ones, the place they love, and/or the traditions and way of ... - JHSiess

How do you think imprisonment affects Giuseppe?
Giuseppe adapted to imprisonment, developing a close relationship with Nino, searching for coins & other valuables, and writing letters to Maria. He became a "smaller," more docile version of his once-fiery self. He submitted to ... - JHSiess

How does the novel treat its bit players? What do you think Marra was trying to say about whose stories matter? Is there a minor character that really appealed to you?
I didn't perceive any character to "minor" and their stories are all compelling and riveting. I can't imagine which character could be omitted from the novel because each is integral to the whole and the themes that Marra ... - JHSiess

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BookBrowse Review


Marra's prose is lush and evocative, eliciting a whole host of emotions from his readers; it's by turns laugh-out-loud funny, joyous, poignant and heartbreaking — but always gloriously descriptive ("The pianist lung[ed] through Schoenberg with the violent elegance of a cat stalking a butterfly across the keyboard"). I particularly enjoyed the author's frequent digressions that have little to do with the plot but ramp up the novel's entertainment value while rounding out the characters. Although the characters are by-and-large fictional, the author sticks closely to the historical record, and I reveled in the details...continued

Full Review (838 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Epically entertaining ... You'll laugh, you'll cry in the marvelous Mercury Pictures Presents.

New York Times
Marra's sublime dexterity brings [the settings] into a natural-seeming alignment, but it also sets up a tonal disparity the novel never fully resolves: I kept thinking, as I read, of Elsa Morante's great, grim, chronicle of life under Italian Fascism, History: A Novel, but also of García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, with which Mercury Pictures Presents shares its 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.

The Washington Post
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.... 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.

Sunday Times (UK), Book of the Month
Funny, verbally inventive and, ultimately, very moving, Mercury Pictures Presents is a wonderful novel.

Booklist (starred review)
[Anthony] Marra has ascended to the top of the literary ranks.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Author Blurb Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Marra brings his considerable gifts for scope and scene to early Hollywood, animating, as he does so thrillingly, the city, the players, the war, and the repercussions of small and huge actions on families, fates, countries, and film. And: this fully-realized world is also really funny! I laughed aloud many times, even as I marveled.

Author Blurb Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
Crackling with wit and suffused with insight, Anthony Marra's new novel is as epic in sweep as a movie set yet delineates the inner workings of the human heart with a miniaturist's precision. Mercury Pictures Presents explores the endless give-and-take between life and art, the cost of integrity, and the ways we must make peace with the past in order to move toward the future... A genuinely moving and life-affirming novel that's a true joy to read.

Author Blurb Jess Walter, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins and The Angel of Rome
Mercury Pictures Presents is a wonder—intimate and sweeping, heartfelt and satirical, one of the funniest and most moving novels I've read in a long time. A story of fascism, war, and refugees finding freedom through art and storytelling, it's both a joy to read and highly relevant to our times.

Author Blurb Luis Urrea, bestselling author of The Devil's Highway and The Hummingbird's Daughter
Achingly beautiful ... You laugh, then you sigh, then you weep... Extraordinary.

Author Blurb Nathan Hill, bestselling author of The Nix
Anthony Marra is a writer of boundless talent: He is a top-notch historian, a razor-sharp social critic, a deeply sensitive psychologist, and an exuberant satirist—all at the same time... A singularly pleasurable read—smart, sad, hilarious, and always full of heart.

Author Blurb Sally Mann, author of Hold Still, finalist for the National Book Award
A novel so rich and wondrous, written with such grace and wit, that there's only one word for Anthony Marra: genius.

Author Blurb Sara Nović, author of Girl at War and True Biz
Smart, heartfelt, and sneakily funny, Mercury Pictures Presents has all the breadth and power of an epic and the attention to detail of an intimate conversation. I read it in a state of admiration for the beauty Marra has wrung from the English language.

Reader Reviews

Cindy R

Historical Brilliance
MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS (Hogarth) by Anthony Marra is brilliant on so many levels. It's hilarious one moment, then turns serious, all the while presenting multi-dimensional, complex characters within a complicated novel. . It's 1940s pre-war ...   Read More
Lynne Lambert

Mercury Pictures Presents a winner
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, ...   Read More

There have been so many books written about WWII that it’s difficult to find one that tells a new story or Carrie’s a new perspective. This book is the rare story; richly written and hard to describe. It’s the story of the influx of European emigres ...   Read More
prem singh yadav

Mercury Pictures Presents
As that you read further into "Mercury Pictures Presents: A Novel," you'll notice that the narrative framework is a work of genius. Marra deftly navigates between past and present, flawlessly combining timeframes to create a multi-dimensional story ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code)

Black-and-white photograph protesting the Hays Code: a woman with a cigarette in mouth wearing a black dress loosely, inner thigh visible, and aiming a gun at a figure who appears lifeless on the ground. Text in upper corner reads 'Thou Shalt Not' and lists items and actions appearing in the picture. In Anthony Marra's novel Mercury Pictures Presents, the main characters struggle to ensure their movies adhere to the Motion Picture Production Code.

In the early years of the 20th century, as motion pictures were becoming increasingly available to the American public, some segments of the population expressed the opinion they were promoting depravity. In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment (protecting freedom of expression) didn't apply to movies, and individual cities began to ban films they deemed immoral. During the 1920s, the Catholic church considered banning films entirely (meaning prohibiting adherents of the faith from attending any movie).

Fearing such a ban would impact profits and concerned about ...

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