Then life presents her with unexpected opportunities and people and things which change (solidify) the shape of her heart. You'll notice I didn't say "fix" her heart, or fix her. That's because what happens to Emi next helps her realize her dreams and herself.
Emi's best friend is a rock. Charlotte does not care one bit for Emi's ex, Morgan, and wants her friend to find someone better. Level-headed and direct, Charlotte is the kind of person you would want to run your business.
Emi's older brother becomes a remote caregiver. Toby, a location scout, is off to Europe for two months to find the best places to film. As a graduation present, he gives Emi the keys to his apartment and says she can live there for the summer under one condition: that something great has to take place there while he's gone.
"Like what?" I ask. I'm a little worried, but excited too. [...]
"That's all I'm gonna say on the subject," he says. "The rest is up to you."
His larger-than-life personality and determination inspires Emi to follow her dreams; his absence forces her to do it on her own.
And then there's a letter written by an old Hollywood star who recently passed away, a letter that Charlotte and Emi find tucked into something they bought at an estate sale. When they try to track down the person the letter belongs to, they end up finding a young woman named Ava who had no idea she was part of this legacy. En route to this discovery, Emi gets the chance to work on an indie movie that just might make her summer as epic as her brother hoped it would be.
Some relationships, be they familial, romantic, platonic, or professional, are, sadly, one-sided. The very best ones are balanced, symbiotic, with give and take, truly beneficial for all involved. The best people are the ones you can truly be yourself with, and who challenge you to live up to your potential. (I, like Emi's mom, think we should all have "a fierce belief in [our] own potential.") Emi, Ava, Charlotte: each of them have people in their lives they should be spending more time with, and others they should pull away from; and they can learn from each other, and lean on each other, if they dare. Because letting someone in means being vulnerable, and telling the truth can be painful, but ultimately, the only way you can grow and be happy is if you toss off what's holding you back and start reaching forward.
A good story, be it in print or on screen, told in words or pictures or music, can move you and shake you and shape you. Early on, Emi, who expresses the story in first-person present-tense, shares this in the narrative: My brother, Toby, and I talk all the time about what movies do. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream... Then, in her day-to-day- life, Emi must deal with events and people who are not what she expected - not necessarily for better or for worse, just different.
Emi loves what she does, and the respect and appreciation she has for the amount of work it takes to create a film will rub off on readers. She searches far and wide to find the perfect items that will "make the set transcend an artificial invention, the addition that will make audiences believe that what they're seeing is real." The following passage describes how Emi views her chosen profession:
This is what I love about production design. The writers imagine the story, tell us where people are and what they do and say. The actors embody the characters, give them faces and voices. The directors and producers transform an idea into something real. But the art department, we do the rest. When you see their rooms and you discover that they love a certain band, or that they collect seashells or hang their clothes with equal space between each perfectly ironed shirt or have stacks of papers on their desks of a week's worth of dirty dishes in the sink and bra strewn over brass doorknobs - all of that is us.
You don't have to be in the entertainment business or pursuing a career in design or production to "get" Emi or the movies she makes; you just have to understand what tugs at her heart: creativity and creation, and details and inspiration, among other things. In the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
In her first novel, Hold Still, author Nina LaCour shared her strong, steady voice in a story about grief, told by a young woman whose her best friend took her own life. LaCour's second novel, The Disenchantments, which was just as strong as her first, lent that voice to a male protagonist. Her voice continues to ring true in Everything Leads to You, coming through characters who feel fully realized, with their talents and flaws shown side-by-side, without shame, without pretense. When characters are described and discussed, their personalities and intentions come through first and foremost, so when their races and ages and classes and sexualities are discussed, it's matter-of-fact and honest but not, as Cosima Niehaus from Orphan Black would say, the most important thing about them. People can be influenced by where they came from, or who they love, or how much money they have in their pockets, but what's more important is how they treat others, and how they move through life -- how they live.
I want to confess. I thought her story was comprised of scenes. I thought the tragedy could be glamorous and her grief could be undone by a sunnier future. I thought we could pinpoint dramatic events on a time line and call it life.
But I was wrong. There are no scenes in life, there are only minutes. And none are skipped over and they all lead to the next.
I connected to this story as an actress and as a writer (I'm a novelist, a playwright, and a screenwriter -- and good goodness, how I wish the screenplay in this book, Yes & Yes, was a real movie!) Most of all, I connected to this story as a person who likes to create things, who was born with passion and drive, the need to make things happen. I keep talking about this book, just as I keep talking about Nina's previous books, because all three of them are remarkable and solid and so very, very good. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you aren't already reading books by Nina LaCour, you should be.
Personal story: As luck would have it, the day I began reading this book, I booked a project. I brought the book with me to set, where I filmed a scene that challenged me in a wonderful way. Also, when a producer spotted the book with my things in the holding area, she immediately picked it up, read the back, and nodded in interest, then gently put the book back down. I was clearly in good company.
Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Book Review: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Booklist: Filmmakers in Fiction
Booklist: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Person
Booklist: Transition Times