In the opening prologue to her latest novel, Best to Laugh, Lorna Landvik writes:
A black cocktail dress, decorated with a smattering of sequins across the neckline, hangs like an art piece on my bedroom wall. Although the integrity of the seams might be compromised, I could probably still squeeze into it, but for me the greater pleasure is looking at it every day and remembering its lessons.
For that same reason, I have two pictures of Hollywood Boulevard in my bathroom, right above the towel rack. One is black and white, circa the 1940s, and in it bulbous limousines are lined up in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. A party has spilled onto the sidewalk and its celebrants are women draped in fur and men in top hats and tails. Some raise champagne flutes and one man holds a lighter, its flame a dot of fuzz. A swirl-haired woman leans into him, her cigarette held in a gloved hand.
The other photograph is in color and shows a blurred wrecking ball about to smash into the side of a white stuccoed building, much of which has already been knocked down. A jagged plaster and wood border frames all that remains of the second floor apartment: a wall decorated with deftly drawn caricatures, hulking silhouettes, and the odd coffee stain.
I keep the pictures and the dress on display because they remind me of the vagaries of life: what’s up can take a tumble, what’s down can bob up, and sometimes what glitters is gold.
When I lived on Hollywood Boulevard, its heyday had long passed and a tired seediness had settled in—the tuxedos threadbare, the fur stoles gone to mange, and the champagne bubbles long since popped. Buses belched smoke where limousines once idled, and a tourist was more likely to have a personal encounter with a pickpocket than a movie star.
Still, the lure was the Boulevard’s reputation and not its reality, and people came from all over the world to study the cement prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, comparing the delicacy of their fingers to Marilyn Monroe’s or their shoe size to Gary Cooper’s; to photograph the names on the pink, black, and gold stars on the Walk of Fame; to rifle through the revolving rack of postcards at Highland Drug and sit at the counter, sipping cherry sodas as they wrote their “Wish you were here’s” in dozens of languages.
And there I was, watching movies and eating popcorn at Grauman’s, roller-skating down the Walk of Fame on my way to work, and buying my toothpaste and tampons at Highland Drug. Wonder of wonders, this international Mecca was my neighborhood.
In Best to Laugh, Lorna Landvik unleashes a host of admirable characters encountered by Candy Pekkala, a young, aspiring stand-up comic performer who moves on a whim from Minnesota to Hollywood in the late 1970s. In our just-released Best to Laugh trailer series, featuring (of course!) Lorna Landvik, we get a glimpse of what's to come in the book—and meet a central character, Madame Pepper, Fortune Teller to the Stars, as she offers solid reading advice to an array of clients. Check out the series on our YouTube channel.
Read the book and itching to talk about it? Lorna Landvik has created a discussion guide for book groups and other readers looking to probe some of the novel's central themes.
Lorna Landvik is the best-selling author of many novels, including Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons, Oh My Stars, and Mayor of the Universe (Minnesota, 2014). She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is also a public speaker, playwright, and actor, most recently seen in an all-improvised, one-woman show Party in the Rec Room.