An Object of Beauty

One has a hard time determining if the object of beauty Steve Martin is talking about is that of Lacey, with whom the narrator is obviously smitten, or the art which inspires Lacey, and others, to collect.

I am amazed at Steve’s ability to write about such work. Consider the following painting by John Singer Sargent and Martin’s description of it:

In front of them was Sargent’s El Jaleo. At almost twelve feet long, it had not been imagined by Lacey to be so monumental, and she felt now that as she approached it, the picture would engulf her. a Spanish dancer, her head thrown back, an arm reaching forward with a castanet, her other hand dramatically raising her white dress, steps hard on the floor. Behind, a bank of guitarists strum a flamenco rhythm that is impossible for us not to think we hear, and one hombre is caught in midclap, a clap we finish in our minds. Another is snoring. The scene is lit from below, as though by a fire, throwing up a wild plume of shadow behind the dancer. The frenzy and fever of the dance, the musicians, and the audience are palpable.

In Lacey, the picture aroused her deeper hunger for wild adventure that could not be fulfilled by a trip to Boston in modern times. She longed for wanton evenings spent in a different century, her own head tilted back, flashing a castanet and a slip of leg, and sex with men no longer among then living. Just then, Joshua leaned in to her and whispered, “That dress is fantastic.”

Filled with double entendres, and a wonderfully dry sense of humour, I’m not sure where Steve is going with his heroine. As of now, I have no respect for her. But, for Steve? I applaud his writing, let alone his knowledge of art and the fools in Manhattan who sell themselves for it.

11 thoughts on “An Object of Beauty”

  1. Audrey, I didn't know he played the banjo. I knew he wrote Shopgirl (which I like much better than this); other than that, I just knew him as a Wild and Crazy Guy from Saturday Night Live.


  2. Close to where I was on this one. I loved the production quality of this one and the talk of art works sent me off looking in various directions but there were other problems for me. Pleasant enough but I hoped for more.


  3. Bellezza, so glad you enjoyed this one! It is one of my faves! Loved Martin's writing – had no idea how talented he was with his writing. I also loved all of the art – I think that was my favorite part of the whole book 🙂


  4. Parrish, if you can find Shopgirl start with that one. It's better than this novel, in my opinion, although the art in this one does make for a fascinating subject. As well as the New Yorkers.Nadia, aren't you just amazed at how knowledgeable he was about the artwork and collectors?


  5. I have watched a few Steve Martin movies and have seen him in Oscar shows and I thought he was okay. But then I discovered 'Shopgirl' and I discovered that he had so much hidden talent. I also felt very happy that he is taking his literary talent seriously and is writing books regularly now. I want to read 'An Object of Beauty' now, after reading your thoughts on it 🙂 Hope you enjoy reading the rest of the book. Thanks for this review!


  6. I love his description of that Singer Sargent! I adored all the art talk in this book—just finished it! Sadly, the characters were not as fleshed-out as I would've liked, but the art really compensated for it. I wish he had written this as non-fiction and erased the story, but just wrote and wrote about paintings nonstop.


  7. I don't remember much of this book now, at three years after reading it. But, I do remember I didn't like it nearly as much as Shopgirl. Somehow, those characters became more imbedded in my mind as I read. Or, I cared about them more. I think you're right (as usual!) about this working better as a non-fiction book.


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