An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010)
Opening Line and Summary:
"I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else."
"So writes Daniel Franks, the narrator of a story about the woman he's been unable to let go of for years in the latest novel by bestselling author and acclaimed entertainer Steve Martin.
"Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take on the notoriously demanding art world of New York City. Groomed at Sotheby's and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her, Lacey charms men and women, old and young, rich and even richer with her charisma and liveliness. Her career sends her zipping all over Manhattan, the east coast, and even St. Petersburg, and her self-manufactured allure makes the reader wonder if it is not she who is the object of beauty. Her ascension to the highest tiers of New York parallels the soaring heights -- and, at times, the darkest lows -- of the art world and the country from the late 1990s through today.
"With twenty-two lush, four-color art reproductions throughout, An Object of Beauty is both a primer on the business of fine art collecting and a close study of the personalities that make it run. With his latest novel Steve Martin once again displays his compassion and keen skills of observation and understanding."
OK -- certainly better than most of the tripe I've been filling my head and my time with of late -- but didn't quite live up to its promise. Perhaps if I had more experience in the art sales and collecting world, but as it was, parts of the book seemed to get bogged down in just so much name dropping. It was also tough to really get to know or care about Lacey (who reminded me a lot of much contemporary pop music -- all glossy auto-tunes, with no substance beneath it) or our narrator, Daniel. Was there really never a crack in Lacey's veneer? No glimpse of what it was that made Daniel so fascinated with her (as it's established early on that they'd slept together only once, some time before the story began, and that this interest isn't primarily sexual)? Or who Daniel is, other than a shadowy art writer without much of a personal life? And I may have missed clues, but if indeed Lacey's success was largely ill-gotten, it would have been nice to see a bit more directly how that unfolded. Even Janet Maslin's New York Times review, which is mostly positive and praises Object of Beauty's "moral complexity," "ambiguity," and "heart," notes that the book lacks "a living, breathing Lacey," that the protagonist "serves this book more as a convenient abstraction, a way of illustrating its tutorial lessons, than a flesh-and-blood heroine," and that narrator Daniel Franks is "only minimally necessary ... watchful but bland."
While both Martin and Maslin may be familiar with the art collecting world, I'm not ... and I do prefer a bit more familiarity and intimacy with my characters. Not sorry I read it, but won't be too quick to recommend or reread it, either.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.