Steve Martin is known not only as a comedic actor and a fantastic banjo player, but also as an engaging author. His most recent novel, from 2010, Object of Beauty, reinforces that idea. He is able to write convincingly about the lives of 20-somethings in New York City in 1990s. The novel centers on Lacey, an up-and-coming art dealer, yet is narrated by her old friend and admirer, Daniel. Very little focus is placed on the narrator’s personal life outside of his time spent with Lacey and there are scenes in which he is not present.
Beginning in the basement of Sotheby’s, Lacey quickly moves up in the art world from private art dealers to opening her own gallery in Chelsea. Along the way, she meets rich men, poor men, and sneaky men. Nothing is as it seems. Lacey’s life, as well as the lives of those around her, are turned upside down.
Martin includes reproductions of some of the artworks discussed in the text, which help the reader create a more vivid mental setting. Descriptions of the environment from locations to clothing and food also create a full picture. Lacey and her peers in the art world frequent a restaurant called Sant Ambrosio. It propones to cook Milanese food, which is my region of origin, and has become my new obsession. Until I have a chance to visit it in person, I will be creating dishes from its menu in my own kitchen. I started with the rosemary focaccia earlier this week.
One of my concerns going into this was that Martin’s personality would color the text. While I highly enjoy his comedy, I didn’t think it would work well with the plotline. I am happy to report that had he written under a pseudonym, I never would have made the connection. The narrator is so believable and the characters feel so true to their generation that I would have expected a much younger, hip author. No offense to Martin intended. Instead, I hope he views it as a compliment. If you have any interest in art, you will enjoy his extensive knowledge. Even those who don’t will be delighted with an engaging story about the art world and the changes it experiences in the 1990s and early 2000s through the eyes of a beautiful, feisty girl, eager to make her mark on the world.
Available from Grand Central Publishing, $26.99