- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (November 15, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0446573655
- ISBN-13: 978-0446573658
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 327 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #273,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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An Object of Beauty: A Novel Paperback – November 15, 2011
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About the Author
Steve Martin is a legendary writer, actor, and performer. His film credits include Father of the Bride, Parenthood, The Spanish Prisoner, and Bringing Down the House, as well as Roxanne, L.A. Story, and Bowfinger, for which he also wrote the screenplays. He's won Emmys for his television writing and two Grammys for comedy albums. In addition to a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, he has written a bestselling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel, and a bestselling novella, Shopgirl, which was made into a movie. His work appears frequently in The New Yorker and The New York Times.
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I was wrapped in the reeling of a young woman at the top of her craft. I was lead to both hate and love this siren of the Art World. Her struggles and her triumphs were both nourishing and brutal, and they called me to want that life as much as I have water anything.
Twists and mystery also accompany her, and you will not be disappointed. Sex and the City meets Lipstick Jungle, but written by a literary mind.
This is how I would want to write, and I didn't want it to ever end.
After seeing the life arcs of hundreds (thousands?) of the best and brightest, Martin is able to draw his characters, even the minor ones, in a way that is idiosyncratic, novel and yet entirely convincing. This is not one of those novels where the characterization is so thin that it is little more than a name and a line or two of back story on the author's legal pad and they move around like automatons in service of the plot.
There are numerous points where a character might do or say something that comes as a surprise to the reader. Then in a moments reflection it makes perfect sense for them. For instance, in one scene the main character and her Parisian boy friend are going to eat in his swanky hotel room. She suggest they go down to the bar for a drink first. He logically says that they could just order up drinks with room service. She replies "Yes, but then no one will see how great we look". Them leaving the hotel room and coming back has no plot purpose. It doesn't advance anything. It would strike the reader who was in the situation as a silly thing to do and a bother. And yet in a minute you realize that this is precisely the kind of thing this character would do. Being a spectacle is a pleasure and a motivation to her.
The kind of beauty and attraction that the main character has is obviously ephemeral- underscored by the fact that her grandmother who was an artist's model is now elderly and dying.
Martin plays with this theme in the book- is there an inherent value to beauty and art? Certianly the "value" of art reflected by the prices is ephemeral too. Styles come and go in popularity and there are Art Booms and Art Busts, but even value of a single paining is non-empirical: it is simply based on the perception that someone else wants the painting more than you. In one scene, Lacey herself engineers false bidding at an auction, without which there wouldn't have been any "value" to her painting at all.
So Lacey is a beautiful thing who bargains and deals in Beautiful Things. Over the course of the novel the value of both will wax and wane.
The novel is essentially a review of the life of an 'up-and-comer' in the Big City in the '90s and '00s. You have heard similar stories in banking, stock market or even Big Law. The fact that Martin has set his story in the Art world, and no the grungy alt stuff either, during the last boom makes it seem very fresh and very unexpected. And it makes a wonderful panoply that the reader will enjoy.
Also noteworthy are the 10 or so pictures of paintings in-line to the text that Martin has added. So when the polt involves a James Tissot painting there is a picture of it. These arent critical to the work, but they are a nice touch and let the reader see why the characters might be so struck by a work or why the characters are saying a work is such a departure from a previous style. On my Kindle these came across reasonably well although I am not sure if they are color in a physical book. In any event, they were an actual addition and quickly promote some sidebar research on wikipedia.
The reader will enjoy they wonderful (I'd say world class) characterization and the very knowledgeable and carefully drawn portrait of the art world and its inhabitants. The writing is similar to the light humorous tone in Shopgirl.
The only downside is that plot, which flirts with being an art world mystery, ends on a note that is more cerebral than it is an action crescendo. Some might find that the way narrative peters out (however true to life) verses an actual climax a bit of a disappointment. However the pleasures of the novel's other attractions are likely to outweigh this for most readers.