Friday, January 6, 2012

A Review of "An Object of Beauty" [1]

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Grand Central Publishing, ISBN 978-0446573641
November 23, 2010, 304 pages

The art business is, it seems, in many ways more about the business than about the art and Lacey Yeager is a player in that wourld who very much wants to succeed. From the Publisher Weekly description..."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."
Oh yes, Lacey who is described as beautiful, always stylish and smart, will do any number of questionable things, both personally and in business, to get ahead. The story is narrated by her friend, the budding art critic Daniel Franks, and it was there, for me that the problems began.

We never get to know Franks. Actually, it is never really clear why he so taken with her. Taken enough that he helps her, as we at last find out, do a particularly skeevy thing, bad even for Lacey. His character seems unnecessary and his occasional reappearance always seemed surprising and out of place. We could have done without him.
Then there is Lacey herself. Are we suppose to like her, hate her? Again, for me she was never real enough to care either way. She is smart and beautiful, we are told, able to woo men and woman or anyone who might advance her career and is certainly not above using her sexuality to get ahead. The problem was, that as we are told that again and again, she seems to become more a middle aged man's fantasy about a beautiful successful woman than a real person. She became a stereotype that, unusually for me, I found rather offensive and annoying. I kept seeing Mr. Martin wiggling his eyebrows and winking at me as I read Lacey's exploits.

On the plus side, the author treats us to a number of interludes, worked into the story, where he introduces us to a number of works of art with some very nice illustrations. Fine in themselves, educational even, but still, they never felt natural to the book but more like little lectures, brief commercial interludes for very, very expensive products.

Which brings us to the final point. What is this book about? Certainly, it is not really about Lacey. Is it a commentary that art has become just another commodity, like coffee beans or pig bellies, where it is all about money, often astronomical, amount of money? The price asks has little to do with merit and one very successful sale can make the prices of the artist's work rise above all reason while other artists of great talent remain unsold.
Yes, people can be greedy and yes, as long as art is bought and sold, it is apart of a business. But, for me, a novel has to make that idea personal, to make me care, and I never did. Love her or hate her, wanting her to succeed or fail, to get caught or get away with it, the reader has to feel connected. Lacey and her story all boiled down to one word for me.
Boring. I just did not care.

Mr. Martin is a great comedian, a very good actor, obviously a talented man. He has written a number of books, some of which are said to be very good stories. He is, it seems, very knowledgeable about art and the art world with some observations about it to make.
But for me, I was hard pressed to finish this book, left hoping for some connection I never found.


  1. Sounds as if he wrote the narrator so he didnt have to try and tell her story from a woman's POV ..

  2. This is not the first sort of negative review I've read of this book. I'm sorry to hear it was so disappointing!

  3. When I reviewed this book, I did look around for interviews with Martin to understand how he created Lacey. If I remember correctly, he didn't really WANT people to love her, but instead made her representative of all that exists in the art world. The greed, the narcissism, the manipulation. I guess he would know! I enjoyed this book but will never sign up for the Lacey fan club.

  4. well, I think the point of a novel is to personify those traits like greed and narcissism ...and I think he failed at that. I didn't hate her, and certainly did not like her. I just did not care.

  5. oy. oh well, better luck next time. i'm glad I passed on this I think!

  6. I know he is really into art. I went to a show of his collection at the Bellagio in Las Vegas once. It was interesting. This book, however, does not sound interesting.


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