Friday, February 18, 2011

An Object of Beauty - Steve Martin



When I picked up this ARC at SIBA last fall, I had no idea it was written by THE Steve Martin. I had no clue he had written the novella "Shopgirl" for example. I just thought he was a wild and crazy guy that I loved in The Jerk and made a bad career choice by starring in those awful Pink Panther remakes. Where have I been?

Imagine my shock! I did some poking around, and not only is Martin an accomplished writer of adult and children's literature and actor, but is an award-winning banjo player with CDs and everything. And he is an avid art collector, and his years of observation of the business was his muse for this novel.

Synopsis: Set in the decadent 1990's and cautious 2000's in Manhattan's swanky art society, our narrator Daniel Frank, an art journalist, tells the tale of his long-time friend Lacey Yeager. Lacey is one of these fascinating creatures that demands attention when she walks into a room (a fact of which she is highly aware) and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. And what she wants is lots of money and the prestige to make it big as an art dealer. Daniel retraces Lacey's steps to this end goal...a grunt position at Sotheby's, sleeping with clients, some questionable deals, some lucky investments, a job at a high-end gallery, eventually opening her own gallery, and alot of hard work.

We also get to experience a real behind-the-scenes view of the art world. Martin interlaces real personalities with fictional ones (which are which?), capturing the fevered passion of collecting, the breathtaking beauty of oil on canvas, the fickle nature of the market, the theft and the scams. There is a whole sub-culture not privy to us middle income earthlings, until now.


My thoughts: I'm not sure what I expected when I started this book, but it wasn't conversational prose and smart, snappy characters. Who knew this guy could write? Apparently not I.

I can't say that I actually LIKED Lacey. She is every woman's nightmare (and girls, we all know one or two of these don't we?) who will steal your man if it suits her agenda. She is so self-absorbed, she has no idea the path of destruction she leaves in her wake or the people she ruins in her climb to the top. She is also smart though, and I found her undeniably witty and hard not to be mesmerized by her when she is "on".

The supporting characters (and everyone in Lacey's orbit is the supporting cast) were all amusing and believable. It was hard not to sympathize with one of Lacey's conquests, a European collector, as he loses his heart to her. We know full well he will be cast aside when she is done with him. I enjoyed the eccentricities that are permitted to the New York's filthy rich (food sniffing? telling bad stories over and over again?). Some have criticized that the characters came straight out of Vogue or Sex and the City. Maybe, but who says that is always a bad thing?

Another bonus afforded to the reader (except recipients of ARCs - boo!) is with the mention of every famous piece of art, we are treated with pictures. Oh, how I would have LOVED to have seen some of these works of art! Yes, I know, I could have googled them, but that requires too much effort. Next time I'm at Barnes & Noble, though, I'm going to sit down and have a good look.

On the downside, there is very little plot, except that it is twenty-ish years of Lacey-cam that includes the aftermath of 9/11 and the financial blowout of Wall Street. I was waiting for something big to happen, and there is a reveal, if you will, about an illegal activity, but it wasn't all that shocking or climatic. I didn't much mind though. I was too busy having fun.

4 out of 5 stars

20 comments:

Susan said...

Hey, I can't believe I knew something about books that you didn't! Ha! I knew about Steve Martin's many talents and heard that he had another book coming out. I liked Shopgirl and the movie was pretty good, too.

Don't you find that funny people like Steve, who think fast on their feet (i.e. hosting the Oscars), are often good writers?

I love characters with two first names. :)

caite said...

yes, I did know that Steve had a serious side... he is really a very smart feller..but I can't say I have read anything he has written.
Maybe this is the place to start.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Interesting - I have the audio (to which I have not yet listened), but now I'm regretting not having the print version!

farmlanebooks said...

I have seen a few reviews for this one, but it isn't jumping out at me. I had no idea he played the banjo though - thanks for enlightening me :-)

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the review! I have always loved Steve Martin but haven't read any of his books yet. I do have this one to listen to for review so I'm hoping I enjoy it too!

Zibilee said...

I thought Shopgirl was a very good book, made more interesting by the fact that I love Steve Martin. I think he has real talent as an author, and I look forward to reading this one. I am not that big on the art scene, but I know that Martin will keep me interested and in the palm of his hand. Great review, Sandy!

The Bumbles said...

Steve is da man. I did know about the banjo and writing - but not what exactly he wrote - so thanks for that exposure. I did also know that he loves kitties, despite the fun he makes of them - cat juggling and all...

Julie P. said...

He's quite the talented guy, isn't he? I'm looking forward to this one.

Alyce said...

This is the second good review I've seen of this book. I don't know that I would normally be drawn to it, but I do like the idea of being able to look at the art as it is mentioned.

heidenkind said...

Did you catch Steve Martin talking about art and this book on the Colbert Report? You should check it out.

I'm not sure about this one. I'm leery of books that present the art world as being oh-so-glamorous.

bermudaonion said...

Steve Martin is a modern day renaissance man. You need to read his memoir as well. I'm glad to see you liked this so much.

Avid Reader said...

I read Shopgirl a few years ago and was shocked by Martin's talent for writting. I'm sure I'll get around to this one too. He's certainly a renaissance man.

Jenners said...

I'm reading his autobiography later this year (Born Standing Up) and I'm very curious about it. I saw a play he wrote once and saw his art collection at an exhibit at the Bellagio once (he did the audio narration that went with it). He is a lot more than "a wild and crazy guy." I'll have to try one of this novels.

Beth F said...

Steve Martin is a favorite in this house because we love how amazingly talented he is from music to comedy to acting to writing. I have this one in audio and I do plan to get to it soon.

JoAnn said...

Loved your intro to this review! I knew Steve Martin could write, just haven't gotten around to reading him... yet.

Ladytink_534 said...

I love Steve Martin but I haven't tried his books yet.

Carrie K. said...

I really enjoyed Shopgirl, and his memoir Born Standing Up, is amazing - especially on audio, since he reads it.

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I read two of Martin's books and really enjoyed them. I think I like him as much as a writer than as a comedian. I can't wait to read this one!

Meg said...

Oh goodness, "Shopgirl" is one of my favorite novellas (and movies!) ever. I went into it with zero expectations because of Martin's name splashed across the front, so color me shocked! The man is crazy talented. Can't wait to read this one!

Alice Teh said...

Characters that come straight out of Vogue or Sex and the City? Sounds like what I love!