An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing; $26.99; 295 pages)
“In addition to her normal inquisitiveness about a work, who painted it and when, and a collegiate hangover necessitating a formulaic, internal monologue about what the painting meant – which always left her mind racing with static – she now found she had another added task: she tried to estimate a painting’s worth. Lacey’s internal wiring had been altered by her work in Manhattan.”
Lacey Yeager is herself an object of beauty and she is mesmerized by the notion of possessing beauty in the form of paintings. Her training at Sotheby’s auction house is the launching point for the morphing of a clever girl just out of college into a conniving woman years later. Her story is told by a college friend whose profession is closely aligned to Lacey’s. Daniel Franks is the narrator who allows himself to be drawn into her magnetic field for years.
Crisp, dry prose that has the power to embed itself in the reader’s memory; exquisite examples of fine art illustrating the plot twists and turns; a white cover reminiscent of art gallery walls; and a journey through the inner workings of an impressionable mind make this book a sensational read. Never mind that this reviewer was a design major with an art history minor and volunteered as an art museum docent! A reader with lesser credentials will surely come away with the same sense of the personality quirks, self-absorption and greed that fueled the Manhattan art scene in the 1990s. Someone who does possess knowledge of art history can be assured that Steve Martin has gathered spot on examples for his illustrations. Martin has succeeded in avoiding the obvious, over-exposed works in favor of others by the artists being featured.
Martin’s emphasis on the spare use of adjectives, ample use of specific details and well-researched facts place the story solidly in the time and places he has chosen. Lacey’s movements around Manhattan serve to define her values. She aspires to possess the best and has a great set of assets that provide her with what she wants. There is a bit of mystery that, while not particularly central to the novel, does serve to deepen the reader’s engagement with the story.
Frequently at casual gatherings the question, “Who would you choose to sit with at a dinner party?” pops into the conversation. After reading An Object of Beauty, I know my immediate answer would be, “Steve Martin.” Although dinner party conversation would not allow me to plumb the depths of this brilliant man’s mind and character, it would be a wonderful start.
This review was written by Ruta Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher.