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An Object of Beauty: A Novel Hardcover – November 23, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 306 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Martin compresses the wild and crazy end of the millennium and finds in this piercing novel a sardonic morality tale. Lacey Yeager is an ambitious young art dealer who uses everything at her disposal to advance in the world of the high-end art trade in New York City. After cutting her teeth at Sotheby's, she manipulates her way up through Barton Talley's gallery of "Very Expensive Paintings," sleeping with patrons, and dodging and indulging in questionable deals, possible felonies, and general skeeviness until she opens her own gallery in Chelsea. Narrated by Lacey's journalist friend, Daniel Franks, whose droll voice is a remarkable stand-in for Martin's own, the world is ordered and knowable, blindly barreling onward until 9/11. And while Lacey and the art she peddles survive, the wealth and prestige garnered by greed do not. Martin (an art collector himself) is an astute miniaturist as he exposes the sound and fury of the rarified Manhattan art world. If Shopgirl was about the absence of purpose, this book is about the absence of a moral compass, not just in the life of an adventuress but for an entire era. (Nov.) (c)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics admired Steve Martin for being a Renaissance man—after all, there are few comedians and actors who are also serious (and successful) writers. And most agreed that An Object of Beauty, more than a simple comic tale, is both a smart satire and a serious novel of manners. Martin shares his ample knowledge of Lacey’s profession and the art world; indeed, his ruminations enlightened more than a few reviewers. Some critics, however, found the novel lacking. Complaints ranged from flat prose to a confused plot, a nearly invisible first person narrator, an unlikable Lacey, some tangential plot lines, and prosaic discussions of art. Still, even the detractors admitted that the book’s premise “is a good one, filled with all sorts of juicy potential” (Guardian). In the end, An Object of Beauty, enhanced by color reproductions of famous paintings, should delight most readers—art aficionados or not.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1st edition (November 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446573647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446573641
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (306 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Ettner on November 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Many readers are going to enjoy this rich, wise and entertaining novel, especially those of you who happen to be:

- A part of the art world. "An Object of Beauty" is a closely-observed story that traces the rise and fall of a young business woman in New York City, from 1993 to 2009. It is set in a corner of the commercial arena that traffics in works of fine art. If you work or play in the world of artists, art dealers, gallery owners, auction houses and their supporting enterprises; or if you are simply a curious outsider interested in what Martin calls "this insular collective" -- then "An Object of Beauty" is sure to please. During the course of a well-constructed tale, Martin holds a mirror up to the art community's denizens and their transgressions. If this is unfamiliar territory, you'll want to be in "learning mode" as Martin (himself an experienced buyer, seller, and lover of art) pauses the narrative from time to time to deliver a mini art history lesson next to an illustration of a painting or sculpture (there are 22 in all) important to the developing plot. On a practical note, he also offers tips on how to negotiate your way through this strange jungle. Martin names names and reveals prices (throughout the novel there is a Balzac-like focus on the prices of everything).

- A collector. Although the reader's attention is on the wily plots of the young careerist Lacey Yeager, and secondarily on the fate of her friend Daniel (an art critic and the story's narrator), the author also populates the book with a parade of minor characters who suffer from the collecting disease. They occupy a spectrum from the savvy and methodical to the passionate, obsessive, and borderline insane.
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Let me begin this review by saying that I have loved Steve Martin's previous books, most especially "Shopgirl". When I read that book I simply could not believe that Steve Martin, a comedian and actor, had the chops to write such a terrific novel. Hence, I had high hopes for this new book going in. Unfortunately it didn't quite reach my expectations.

This book is part novel and part CliffsNotes on trends in art collecting over the past 20 years or so. I'm not involved in the art world in any way, shape, or form. So, from the angle of being a primer on recent art fads, I found this book to be quite educational. Martin gives some interesting perspective on art and artists, even including photos of the artwork that he discusses in the text. I found this to be extremely helpful and it made the book more interesting to read. I don't know if those in the art community would agree with this point of view, but I did find it educational. The problem with the book is actually its plot, which is anemic at best.

The story is focused on Lacey Yeager, an up-and-coming Manhattanite on the art auctioning and dealing side of things and who seems to single-handedly represent the art movement from the early `90s to the current era. This puts a huge burden on the young woman's shoulders and leaves her bereft of much in the way of characterization. Though we learn that Lacey is tough, ambitious, and sexually uninhibited, we don't get much of a feel for what makes her tick in the first place. The story hints at something `bad' that she's done in collusion with the narrator of the book; but the slow reveal is actually glacial and the payoff is not exactly surprising or even all that interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
Lacey Yeager is a villain. When you get right down to it, you see that she wants to conquer the (art) world and doesn't care how she does it or who she hurts in the process. And I like her for it. I know, it's weird. But she was a very well-written villain which makes you root for her and yet, at the same time despise her actions.

This book follows the art movements for at least twenty years, educating the reader about what goes on behind auction-house, gallery, and museum walls. Thousands and millions of dollars are being thrown at slabs of paint, depending on what's hip at the moment. Steve Martin goes into a lot of detail and shows that he's done his homework on everything art-related. I learned a lot, along with enjoying the story of Lacey. And I loved the examples of art that he included in the book.

We even hear about how art was affected through 9/11, as well as the economic collapse a few years later. The image of Lacey biking toward downtown Manhattan while the towers were smoking is quite vivid, as was her subsequent confusion. And then, years later, when she finally decided to invest with Talley right before the recession, the reader could do nothing but shake her head at the horrible timing.

Through all of this, Lacey is very detached. She commits a crime, and doesn't feel guilty. Men fall at her feet during her rise to the top, and she stomps on their hearts. She uses her grandmother's death to her advantage. Sounds quite supervillain-ish to me...And makes me wonder about Steve Martin's "Object" of Beauty. She was beautiful, but she was an object. A thing who's only emotion is ambition (is that even an emotion?). And in the end, she falls, as most supervillains do at the end of the superhero movie.
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