Tag Archives: Shopgirl

Ruby Tuesday

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.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Isn’t It a Pity

13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro (Reagan Arthur Books; $23.99; 288 pages)

Initially this appears to be a beautifully presented novel based on the possessions of a woman who once lived in the early 1900s (experiencing both World Wars), in Paris.   The graphic reproductions of items owned by Louise Brunet, which came into the author’s possession as a young girl, are reproduced in a high-class manner.   Unfortunately, this story also contains some troubling characteristics which ruined the experience for this reader.

In the early 1980s, the author’s mother salvaged a small box of mementos formerly owned by Mrs. Brunet:  “This box is the sepulcher of Louise Brunet’s heart.   The story behind the objects is lost; the objects are now the story…  As I have carried this strange box through life and across the world, I have always intended to make a book out of it.   This book now exists; you hold it in your hands.”

It is a charming and promising premise – fleshing out an unknown life via the author’s imagination.   A great deal of the content involves the lives of French people, men and women, during World War I.   The read is initially quite engaging as we encounter an American historical researcher-professor, living in the present day, who comes across Mrs. Brunet’s possessions and begins – as he charts out the happenings of her life – to fall in love with her.   It will be an unrequited love except for the fact that through a miracle of time travel he comes to meet her face to face.   Having met Mrs. Brunet, the researcher is essentially freed to fall in love with a woman of his own time.

All of this has a Somewhere in Time or The Time Traveler’s Wife aspect to it, which seems wonderful on its face.   And yet, the Louise Brunet that the reader comes to identify with in the first half of the novel turns into a madwoman in its concluding portion.   This is a happily married woman – a woman who has never had a child – who engages in an affair with a married neighbor, knowing full well that it is wrong and that she takes the chance of getting pregnant; something that would destroy her marriage and world.

This female protagonist also engages in crimes and enjoys confessing her sins to a Catholic priest, to the point where she laughs hysterically after confessing her adultery.   It all seems strange and disjointed, as if the two halves of the novel do not fit together properly.   But this is not the biggest issue with the telling.

“She does not understand the power of that man’s body over her…  He is like a poison in her, all the more potent because she doesn’t want an antidote.   She welcomes this disease of desire.”

The major problem with 13 rue Therese is that the sex scenes are described in terms more than a bit reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – rude, crude and shocking.   The polite language of an earlier time gives way to terms that appear to be deliberately intended to shock the once comfortable reader.   Perhaps this was done deliberately as an attempt to demonstrate the lack of control that overtakes Louise, a woman ready to destroy her life for a man she’s attracted to even while she does not understand that attraction.

In summary, 13 rue Therese is like one of those schizophrenic films (the movie version of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl comes to mind) that is quite pleasurable for the first hour, but hard to watch for the second.   This is a novel with great potential that simply self-destructs, and concludes in a rather mundane fashion.   It’s a pity.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This novel was released today.

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