Posted on February 3, 2011
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Reviewed by Mister Critic
If Mister Critic had to live by one simple rule which he had divined from one of the best Steve Martin songs, Grandmother’s Song, that rule would be: “be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.” But if he had to live by two rules found with in that song then he would also have to go with: “Criticize things you don’t know about.”
And with that rule in mind, let’s review Mr. Martin’s new book, An Object of Beauty.
His latest novel tells the story of a young woman, Lacey Yeager, as she works her way to the top of the world of art dealing. The story is told from the perspective of a young man who is very taken with Ms. Yeager, and to him she is a work of art. She is a determined, ambitious, go-getter, and it does not take her long to start climbing the ladder of success using every trick up her sleeve to get ahead.
Mr. Martin creates yet another interesting female lead character, as he did in Shopgirl, and it was fun to observe his experimentation with this character in the New York City art world of the 1990s to the 2000s. However, I sometimes wondered how authentic the character would seem to a woman reader. I felt at times there were choices she made that felt more like things a man would do rather than a woman character. I would be interested to hear from others on how they felt about this.
I really enjoyed the examination of the art world in the book. Mostly because there were pictures of the art. I like pictures. But also because I have absolutely no knowledge or concept of that world. I found the discussion about what art sells and why it sells to be fascinating. I enjoyed the art history lessons. It really spoke to that part of me that really wants to study art history. Actually, I’ll be honest, I really just want to study art history so I could solve some DaVinci Code mystery. Anyway, it was clear that “art” or the “art world” was a main character of the book that meant something very special to Mr. Martin.
My only hesitation with the book was the story lacked a strong resolution for me. The main character was built up to be so greedy and selfish, that although the narrator wanted us to love her as an object of beauty, I instead wanted a good Gordon Gecko moment. A good comeuppance. But for me, the ending just didn’t deliver, which made the plot fall flat. I’m sure in someway that was Mr. Martin’s intent, but it was hard for me to feel emotionally connected to this plot.
However, as with any piece of art, although you may not like the message of the piece, it is sometimes just enough to examine something for what it is, an object of beauty. And Mr. Martin is an artist and the book is art, as both a very interesting female character study and a fun art lesson.
Now let’s go get small.