Even though Best to Laugh (Univ. of Minnesota Press, Sept.) is set in Los Angeles rather than in smalltown Minnesota, like Lorna Landvik’s eight other novels, she says it’s her most autobiographical work yet. Best to Laugh is the story of Candy Pekkala, a Midwestern teenager, who travels to L.A. to try to break into show business as a standup comedian. Pursuing her dream, Candy sublets her cousin’s place in an apartment complex on Hollywood Boulevard, a few blocks from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. There, she connects with the kinds of characters one encounters only in L.A.: a bodybuilder whose mother is a famous actress of yesteryear; a substitute teacher who wins television game shows because of his immense knowledge of trivia; a ruined nightclub impresario; a well-connected Romanian fortune-teller.
Landvik, 59, says that when she and her husband were young and foolish, they moved from Minnesota to California, first to San Francisco and then to L.A., where they lived in Peyton Hall, an apartment complex very much like the one Candy lives in. Confessing to having had recurrent dreams over the years about Peyton Hall, which she remembers as “just fabulous,” Landvik says that she wrote Best to Laugh to “pay homage” to that period in her life. “I don’t know if I’ll ever write my memoirs,” she says. “I don’t have the kind of mind that remembers a lot of details. But I have such vivid memories of when I was in my 20s and lived on Hollywood Boulevard.”
Like Candy, Landvik worked temp jobs that can only be described as unusual: a stint at a record company, another at the Playboy Mansion—a clerical job that she swears did not require any disrobing. And Landvik was also a television game show contestant, even winning $4,000 and a trip to Tahiti on The $25,000 Pyramid.
While Landvik left L.A. 30 years ago, she never gave up on show business. Once a year, she performs an improv comedy routine at Lyn-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, which always includes making margaritas for some of the audience members. “I like to be a good hostess and make something for my guests,” she explains.
Today, 3:30–4 p.m., she signs copies of Best to Laugh at Table 20 in the Autographing Area. No word on whether she’ll be making margaritas as well.