An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin
This smart novel is a look at the art world during the 1990s and into the beginning of this century. It’s a study of art collecting of that time, as well as a study of the personalities running that art world. The narrator is a friend and admirer of the protagonist, Lacey Yeager. She is an ambitious young woman unleashed upon the glamorous art world at the age of 23 with big dreams, and lots of energy.
She feels fortunate to land a behind-the-scenes job at Sotheby’s, where she learns a lot. She finds out that the employees don’t make much money, and she struggles. She observes behind the scenes, and uses her growing knowledge to climb a social and career ladder within the art world. Following her life choices, as described by the narrator, is intriguing. Some choices are surprisingly ruthless and others are stunning. Her adventures, investments, and self-made allure clearly make her an object of beauty for many who are smitten with her notorious charms.
The author’s writing is clever, at times elegant, and full of wit. His novel is rich with descriptions that make you feel you know the people and the world they inhabit. Both Lacey Yeager, and her narrator are unforgettable characters. The action in the book often turns on the author’s well-chosen twist of a word or phrase. Sprinkled throughout the book you’re treated to twenty-two color art reproductions of the art of the time that the characters refer to at auction or at sale. As you read on you realize how very knowledgeable Steve Martin, a long time collector, is about the art world.
You’re pulled into the “market” yourself to think about – what is truly art and creativity? What would you chase after to buy? The 1990s was an interesting time in the world of art. Descriptions of the art objects were often in depth and contained interesting information about the artists and the pieces. And then sometimes the characters reveal a very human, emotional connection to a piece that resounds as true – “I like it when the moonlight is reflected on the water.”
You’ll be fascinated by the intimate, insightful descriptions of the art, and the people handling it, and the buyers chasing it. You’ll be surprised to find where Lacey’s career choices lead her, and her friend the narrator. And in the end you’ll realize John Keats was right about a true thing of beauty –
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”
— By Wendy Kendall
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.