Thursday, 23 September 2010

An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin: Lauren's Review

An Object of Beauty focuses on the ambitious and beautiful Lacey Yeager who inhabits New York’s art scene, working her way up from a lowly employee at Sotheby’s to eventually owning her own gallery. Her meteoric rise and subsequent fall after a controversial scandal are narrated through the eyes of her friend, Daniel Franks. The reader is left in no doubt that ‘the object of beauty’ refers not only to the exquisite paintings that Lacy pores over but also to Lacey herself. The novel fits into the category of intellectual chick lit as it blends stories of Lacey’s glamorous life with factual snippets on the background of paintings and the art market. Photos Martin intersperses of the paintings he describes succeed in giving the book the feel of a journal and providing gravitas to the glitz and glamour of the art world and this young beautiful employee within it.

Whilst the reader can admire Lacey for her drive and determination that lead her to ‘….the top person in the room, and her cleverness made [him] believe that he had guided himself to her,’ she is largely painted as a charismatic yet self-absorbed creature, intent on her own gain thus making her unsympathetic. Franks describes her as having the ‘pizzazz of a Broadway star’ causing a ‘moment of deflation’ when she
exits a room. Yet, it is clear her impact is carefully calculated as she attempts to be ‘…a wicked detail standing out…’ Lacey is shown to dislike those who threaten to eclipse her or prove competition as she looks down on her beautiful and clever work colleague Tanya Ross. She is also shown to mercilessly use and cast aside men for her own ends as she sleeps with those it is to her ‘advantage’ to keep ‘interested’ or
those she wishes to placate. ‘…rash with people….her body…her remarks…considered no one her peer …’ Men’s emotions are ‘pesky annoyances’ and the reader cannot but feel for Patrice who allows his lust to turn to love. It is evident that Lacey’s will, ambition and high self regard will only ever allow her to belong to
herself. ‘….watched her sink into her own thoughts, he could feel the communion slip away, and he knew that she was not his.’

Lacey’s entry into the art world is a ticket to a lifestyle. Franks describes it as ‘new collectors and personalities raging, competing, socialising…dinners and openings, invitations to fundraisers and a fluctuating, dynamic mix of people…’ Through sheer hard work Lacey ‘…develops an instinct that would burrow inside her and stay forever.’ Lacey learns the thrill and sentient beauty of a painting and wants the funds to aid her ‘…rapidly evolving taste.’ She learns to convert objects of beauty to objects of value, buying and selling paintings for profit. Ultimately, it is Lacey’s steely determination to fully belong to this world that leads her to participate in a scam that whilst making her a lot of money, costs her several jobs and her reputation. Whilst partly admiring of this reckless determination that endangers everything she holds dear, the reader is also unsympathetic to the greed it stems from that costs her family their inheritance and ultimately leaves her jobless.

Daniel Franks the narrator appears a weak and foolish man as he participates in Lacey’s scam, later blaming her for the fact that it costs him his girlfriend. He appears to be obsessed by the glittering Lacey declaring that he is forced to write about her unless he is ‘unable to ever write about anything else.’ Whilst stating that
he has never succumbed to Lacey’s ‘tentacles,’ he admits to ‘hiding envy’ for her conquests and admiring her beauty. The reader is left to assume that this man that had to introduce himself ‘…half dozen times before [his]….face started to become familiar’ and whose ‘…relationships….seemed to lack ignition’ relies on Lacey for
the drama, vitality and interest that his own life acts. Indeed, his own act of writing about Lacey, this ‘object of beauty’ is reminiscent of Lacey converting objects of beauty to objects of value. Martin suggests that Franks’ writing that could potentially increase his wealth and status through depicting his relationship with Lacey is parasitic. Although Lacey states she is not trying to be depicted as ‘…a good little girl…’ in Franks book, Franks act of sacrificial exposure that could ‘….ruin her or make her famous’ appears a cold and calculated act from a friend. Her demise, her false friend and Patrice’s belief that ‘Lacey is the kind of person that will always be okay,’ leads the reader to both respect Lacey and to hesitate in judging her too severely. Martin’s book is reminiscent of the hedonism and decadence of Fitzgerald’s novels, where the glamour and froth hides a rotting utopia.

An Object of Beauty is available to preorder and will be published on 25th of November.