02 January 2011

Review of Steve Martin, An Object of Beauty

The star of Steve Martin's gorgeous new book, An Object of Beauty, is Lacey Yeager, a young art world protege, working for Sotheby's auction house.  The novel is told from the perspective of Daniel Franks, an art writer and admirer of Lacey.  The book begins, "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."  And that's what the book does: tells Lacey's story, and allows Franks to write about something (maybe someone) else.

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.

4 comments:

  1. You're the first blogger I've come across to review this. Well done! I'm also a big fan of Steve Martin the actor but haven't yet experienced his writing. Glad to see you liked this. Maybe I'll give it a try.

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  2. Thanks for the review! One of the members of my book club recently added this to our "bookshelf" of potential reads. Maybe I will pick it when my turn comes around.

    -Jay

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  3. I was first introduced to Steve Martin's "other side" through his wonderful art collection. I'm glad to read that you liked his book, I'm looking forward to reading it as well.

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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  4. @Teacher/Learner: I haven't seen many reviews of this either. I would recommend it, even though it starts out a little slow, especially if you are interested in art.

    @bibliophilica: I can see it being a good book club choice. There would probably be a variety of opinions.

    @Man of la Books: Steve Martin definitely has many sides. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse into the minds of art collectors through this one.

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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