FOLLOWING ITS NIGHT with Steve Martin in November, the 92nd Street Y offered refunds for the event, which certain members of the audience deemed not funny enough. Martin blasted that decision in a New York Times op-ed piece, but a quick glance at Martin's new novel (and the ostensible subject of that night's conversation), An Object of Beauty, would have prepared any audience for Martin's presentation. It's not intended to be a comedic book at all, but rather a Serious Novel—and, happily, neither a dour nor colorless one.
In fact, An Object of Beauty is almost obscenely well written, with a masterful handle on language, and passages of such poise and wit that one forgets its author pissed all over Peter Sellers' ghost in two Pink Panther remakes. Beauty follows the 20s and early 30s of Lacey Yeager, a Manhattanite who moves up the ranks at Sotheby's auction house. Told through the eyes of her co-conspirator, Daniel Franks—a narrator I imagine Martin intended to be a Nick Carraway-esque enigma, but is more of an empty cipher—Lacey's maneuverings through the New York art scene offer memorable episodes and well-drawn characters. However, Martin neglects to fully flesh out his plot; when the book reveals Lacey and Daniel's big secret, the reader is bound to think, "So what?"
It's worth mentioning, though, that An Object of Beauty offers color reproductions of artworks discussed in the book's plot, including Picasso and Warhol; this inclusion adds a welcome dimension to the storytelling, as well as Martin's unobtrusive but effective commentary on 20th century art.