Thursday, August 11, 2016
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin; About the Book
An Object of Beauty
Steve Martin begins his novel "An Object of Beauty" with these words "I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else."
While the book was published back in 2010, I just read it this week on my Nook, after learning that Amy Adams had agreed to play the lead role of Lacey, in a recently-announced film version. I generally like Adams work - I thought she was terrific in Julie and Julia - and remember enjoying Steve Martin's Shop Girl.
The novel centers on Lacy's upward climb in the art market world of the 90's. It's the business side of art during a heady period where collectors spent a ton of money to get their hands on a piece of art, and the gallery owners, dealers and institutions like Christies and Sothebys' all got very rich.
I enjoyed the fact that Martin, an art collector himself, included color pictures of several works of art discussed in the book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading what he had to say about them. He's incredibly knowledgeable about both the art and the industry surrounding it. It's certainly a fascinating world that I haven't seen much of so I began reading with genuine interest.
Unfortunately I didn't like Lacey and I didn't enjoy reading about her. Martin paints her as amoral, with an avarice and self-centeredness that holds no bounds. I guess I'm one of those readers who like to root for my protagonist. If the character starts out uncaring and manipulative, I want to see them suffer and grow, to travel a character arc until they become sympathetic. That's not Lacy. She's unchanging and unapologetic. She collects people, particularly men, wrings out every drop of value, and tosses them aside. Ultimately, she's so shallow, unlikeable and mostly untouched by it all, that I just didn't care.
I wonder if and why Steve Martin thought I would? Why he would write her like that? He has written a caricature without giving her an inner life that might make her more relatable. Is 'Lacey' someone Martin really knows from his dealings in that world - if only in composite? Perhaps Lacey is representative of that crazy art world intself ? It would make sense that Martin, like his narrator, the art writer, Daniel Franks, he is tired of thinking about her and has to write about her, to get his distaste for her - for it - out of his system.
If the art is the best part of the book; the sex is the worst. It's embarassingly graphic and somehow the fact that Martin is no ordinary writer but has a very public persona makes it worse. If I were to meet the man, surely I would redden to remember those passages?
There's a good chance that I'll enjoy the film version more than this book. Especially with Adams as Lacey. Because with her as a more nuanced core character than Martin has written, I imagine I will be touched by the emptiness the ending evokes, as opposed to the emptiness and distaste I feel upon finishing the book.
I am tired, so very tired, of reading about Lacey Yeager. But I'm kind of looking forward to seeing her onscreen.