Thursday, July 26, 2012
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
In a relatively few number of pages Steve Martin manages to touch on a variety of themes - art, its value, ambition, and a culture and way of life built on a bubble that like all bubbles is destined to burst at some point. The story centers around a young woman with ambitions to not to only thrive but conquer in the competitive art world. Not the making of art, mind you, but the selling of art. The story takes place mostly in New York during the last decade of the 20th century and the first one of the 21st, but as it is a tale of the triumphs and misdeeds of an outsider making her way in and up, it is a timeless story and one readers will be familiar with.
Although it is Lacey Yeager's story, the tale is told by Daniel, a college friend and sometimes fling who is and always will be somewhat in awe of and little in love with her. Lacey's career begins in the basement at Sotheby's but of course she is destined for better things. As told by Daniel, the story is a bit cold and distant at times, but then so is Lacey. While charming she is also calculating, and not always the most likable character, but she doesn't need to be. Lacey is interesting and it isn't too difficult to understand Daniel's fascination with her.
In addition to telling us Lacey's story, Daniel/Martin gives readers a lesson in art and the business of art. The book even includes twenty-two art reproductions. Including reproductions of the art could have been gimmicky but here it worked. In fact, I enjoyed learning about art and the art business as much as I enjoyed reading about Lacey's ups and downs. Martin also did a great job of tying the story to real life events like 9/11, downturns in the stock market, and the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, which had the effect of putting Lacey's story in perspective.
Aside from the story and the art, the main reason to pick of An Object of Beauty is the writing. I adore Martin's writing. It is conversational and soothing, as if someone were reading it aloud to me. The words flowed and my attention never flagged. I finished the book in two days and would finished sooner if not for having to go to work. I would highly recommend this book.