Tuesday, December 21, 2010

AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin (2010) Grand Central Publishing

Is there anything this Renaissance man cannot do? He can go toe to toe with Alec Baldwin for Meryl Streep's affection in IT'S COMPLICATED, make a mean chocolate croissant from scratch, and date Liz Lemon as the pathological liar Gavin Velour in a guest starring spot on 30 ROCK. And, didn't he just win a Grammy for plinking his banjo and also publish a New York Times bestseller in the same year?

I've long admired Steve Martin's writing, having read both his fiction (PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE, SHOPGIRL, THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY) and his nonfiction (BORN STANDING UP), so was excited to see that he had a new novel out this fall.

AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY transports you into the idiosyncratic world of art collectors and offers an Art History 101 course replete with colour panels of important paintings while you're along for the heady ride.

Daniel Franks, who is true to his family name, is our reliable narrator who tells the story of Lacey Yeager, a one-time lover and longtime friend who is a clever and captivating student of the NYC art world into which she hurls herself in the early 90s. Apprenticing in the dungeons at Sotheby's, cataloguing, Lacey soon finds a way to move up the corporate ladder and then out into the world of boutique Manhattan galleries frequented by both the rich and famous who are eager to add to their burgeoning collections. With a shrewd investment of a Warhol that she purchases for a song and then parlays into real money, Lacey makes her way, toppling romantic entanglements that seem to take up just too much of her time.

Lacey is plucky and intelligent and not often easy to like in her narcissism, but as her former lover Patrice explains near the end of the tale, "I think Lacey is the kind of person who will always be okay."

Three things I did not expect and was delighted to find in this wonderful romp: a John Updike cameo, an allusion to HAMLET, and a renewed interest in the paintings of Rockwell Kent. If you are looking for a smart, elegant read that immerses you in NYC's tony art community, AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY is the novel for you.

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