An Object of Beauty
Steve Martin
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Buy *An Object of Beauty* by Steve Martin online

An Object of Beauty
Steve Martin
Grand Central Publishing
304 pages
November 2010
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Martin offers a peek into the world of art collectors and those who serve their interests in a tale of a greedy young woman who gets trapped in her own web of deceit. The heroine of the novel is Lacey Yeager, an ambitious and acquisitive twenty-something who eagerly pursues employment opportunities at Sotheby’s auction house to make critical connections to the movers and shakers from the 1990s to current times. The narrator is Lacey’s friend, Daniel Franks, an almost-boyfriend and quasi-successful art critic. Repository of Lacey’s most intimate secrets - as he must be to comprehend her motives - the integrity-impaired Franks more often resembles a girlfriend than a red-blooded male with the requisite body parts.

Most men quail before Lacey’s assault, a carefully-wrought dance between seduction and aggression that guarantees interest but allows no real relationships to flower. Lacey is decidedly a woman in a man’s world who takes advantage of her striking looks and sense of style to manipulate the big boys, as calculating as any jungle predator. For Lacey, sex is but a means to an end, an itch to scratch but never a meaningful experience. So it is difficult to imagine Daniel’s affection for a woman who offers little in return for her confidences: “Lacey was headed somewhere, though her path often left blood in the water.” Maybe the proximity to art and money is a sufficient lure for Daniel.

As the economy rises and falls, so do the fortunes of the art world, including the acquisition of avant-garde artists post-Warhol that inspires a heady race to invest in the newest and the most obscure or bizarre. Finances direct the art market, Lacey’s growing bank account impacted by 9/11 and Black Monday, the country facing the consequences of its love affair with material possessions, even Wall Street drawn into the investment mania of art collections. Martin escorts his readers where most will never tread: the hallowed halls of collectors and galleries, where cachet is everything and wealth is the means of entry. There is the vague whiff of elitism in Martin’s expose of the collectors and their lackeys, the author a gifted raconteur with an eye for the absurdities of human behavior, surreptitiously snickering at pretensions though quite informed about his subject, a bored god amused by the fools who curry favor.

Lacey’s error, of course, is that she “started converting objects of beauty into objects of value.” Described in one review as a modern day Holly Go-Lightly, this character could not be more unlike that naïve and hopeful fiction. Lacey is yet another boring golden girl who flaunts her beauty and sexuality to achieve her goals and can be purchased on any street corner for the right price. The soulless and scheming protagonist reflects a novel that is both sly and cynical, a bright cocktail with a bitter aftertaste. Wink wink - aren’t these people fascinating? About as much as the housing bubble. For all his wit and talent, maybe this isn’t the best time for Martin’s satire on America’s love affair with wealth, fame and the unattainable.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2010

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