02 January 2011
Review of Steve Martin, An Object of Beauty
When I began the book, I had a little trouble getting into the flow of Martin's prose. I felt the same way about his earlier novella, Shopgirl. There is a slowness and a formality to the writing, that sometimes feels old-fashioned, but soon it becomes clear that the slow strokes lead to a fully developed and beautifully drawn character study. The novel is in three parts, and for the first part, I enjoyed the development of Lacey's character, and also the wonderful art history lessons that the book provides, but I worried that the book had no plot.
In the latter two-thirds of the novel, the plot surely picks up, but Lacey still remains the rapidly growing and changing center. Major events - 9/11 for example- become the backdrop for Lacey's inner turmoil and rampant ambitions. On the morning that the World Trade towers fall, Lacey is taking a bike ride through Central Park, contemplating the beauty of the day and wondering why there are so few people out and about. Recessions and world events become relevant only as they affect Lacey's rise in the art world, and this gives a strong impression that Lacey is the center of the world - her own world, Daniel's world and the world of the novel.
The title asks the reader to consider its referent: What in this novel is an "object of beauty?" Certainly, as the dust jacket suggests, as the book goes on, the reader begins to suspect that it may be Lacey herself. The original object of beauty that catapults Lacey on her rapid ascent into the art world elite, is a painting by the American Milton Avery, that she is asked to deliver for her employer and briefly hangs on her apartment wall. There are many other pieces of art that Lacey loves- I would almost say worships- that reveal the tender, affectionate and almost fetishistic relationship that the collector has to individual works of art. However, the book itself is also an object of beauty- from the minimalist, textured cover art, to the thick, white pages, the simple fonts and the wonderful illustrations.
Bottom Line: If you can't tell...I really loved this book. It wasn't totally smooth sailing. Like I mentioned, the beginning is a little slow, but I didn't want it to end. I felt the same affection for the story that Lacey feels for her paintings. I'm also a huge Steve Martin fan in general (who doesn't love Father of the Bride?) and this latest project did not disappoint.