I came to this book with high expectations. The Pleasure Of My Company is Steve Martin’s second novel/novella, and after having read his third and most recent a couple of years ago, An Object Of Beauty, which blew me away with its eloquent language and profound insights into the world of art, I knew I was probably going to like his first couple of books (I seem to be working my way backwards). Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed.
The Pleasure Of My Company is very different, both in story and character types. Martin is brilliant at painting deeply flawed characters who struggle for one reason or another, but, due to the way he writes and develops them through the story, you tend to fall in love with them as a reader. In this short novel (it’s around 160-170 pages – on the outside is says a novel but inside a novella) the main character is Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a young man somewhere in his late 20s or early 30s (depending on his mood) who suffers from a number of neuroses which leave him mostly trapped inside his house. As a few unexpected events occur in his life, including winning the Tepperton’s Pies Most Average American essay contest, as well as taking in some unexpected guests in need, slowly Daniel’s universe is forced to expand and he gets a taste for what his life could become if he could just break free. Of course, breaking free is not that easy for the modern neurotic.
Daniel is such an unusual character, but Martin has depicted him so vividly by writing from Daniel’s perspective. You get to read his thoughts on the various women in his life, from Elizabeth the real-estate lady to Zandy who works at a shop, to his student-counselor Clarissa. Through these insights, you see the way his mind works as he craves any attention he can get off these three women and dreams up loving relationships with them, even though he also second-guesses himself and wonders if he is just being ridiculous. At one point, when he finally gives up hope on at least one of these women, he says “She had destroyed whatever was between us by making a profound gaffe: She met me.” While quite witty, it also reveals the true nature of Daniel’s mind – self-deprecating and fully aware that his own limitations are not normal. And I think, perhaps, it is this self-awareness that helps us to sympathise and empathise with Daniel, because it brings attention to the fact that deep down he does want to break down some of these barriers in his life.
Martin’s language control throughout the book is quite remarkable, as well, as so much of the feeling of the story comes from the writing. The way Daniel describes situations can be very blunt and matter of fact, but it’s also very important that his fears be made to feel very real. One of his key fears is that of roadside curbs, namely that he cannot walk over them onto the road. But while the actual fear itself seems ridiculous to most readers, the feelings that the fear produces can still be welled up inside us through the use of building atmosphere through long, panicky sentences. As an example, this is a paragraph from one of the times that Daniel does walk over a curb (it happens a few times in the story):
If I’d allowed my body to do what it wanted to do, it would have fallen on its knees and its head on the ground, its arms stretched out on the sidewalk. Its mind would have roiled and its throat would have cried, and nothing but exhaustion would have made it all stop, and nothing but home could have set the scale back in balance. But instead, I marched on, spurred by inertia and the infinitesimal recollection that I had recently crossed a curb and had not died.
It takes Daniel nearly two more pages of writing to actually cross the dreaded curb here of which he speaks, but through the use of such language as this we find ourselves rooting for him as some kind of unlikely hero, as if he were facing a much more serious threat than he actually is, and that really is a sign of clever writing.
Ultimately, The Pleasure Of My Company is a triumph over adversity, and a fascinating view into a life that many of us could never even imagine. It is funny, sweet, tender and brave, and is a testament to Martin’s ability as a writer and a storyteller. If you haven’t read any of Martin’s fictional writing, I urge you to give it a try – he’s not just “a good writer for a comedian/actor”, he’s a brilliant writer full stop.