It happens to all of us. We go into the journey of reading a book, fairly confident that we won’t enjoy it. Maybe it’s a book that a friend recommended to us, maybe it’s that awkward birthday present you have to read to be polite, or maybe it’s a classic we feel we have to read out of a sense of duty. Whatever the reason, it’s always a pleasant surprise when that book we had little expectation for turns out to be quite good.
Luckily for me, this exact thing happened recently. I bought a book by Steve Martin (yes, the film star/comedian Steve Martin) called An Object of Beauty, a relatively new book by him about art and the art world, most particularly the New York art scene over the last couple of decades. Considering Martin is known for some fairly daggy movies over the years, he never struck me as somebody who would know a lot about art, and I didn’t really expect him to be able to weave a good novel together, either. I only really bought the book out of sheer curiosity, that “just in case it’s good” purchase – does anybody else do this from time to time?
An Object of Beauty tells the story of Lacey Yeager, a young, attractive woman who works her way up through the New York art scene, working in various galleries until she eventually sets up her own. During all this, we see her slide her way through numerous relationships and take enormous risks to get what she wants, and all of it is narrated from an old friend, who occasionally enters the story himself. The character of Lacey isn’t the most likeable character ever, and often I found as a reader I connected to some of the other characters more, particularly the young men left behind as she weaves her trail of heartbreaking and art buying. But most notably of all, the thing that blew me away with this book is that Steve Martin actually knows his stuff! He admits in his author’s notes that he has been collecting art himself since the late 1960s, when he himself was a young man, so he not only has an appreciation for art but has watched the art scene fluctuate with various other events in history, much of which he pits this story against. His writing is very accessible but still witty, and the story itself flitters between being sexy and humorous to being insightful and philosophical, ultimately examining the idea that while the core of the art world, art itself, is a thing of beauty, the art world which surrounds it can become quite ugly.
If you feel like reading something a little different, try this novel. You might be surprised – I was.