by Steve Martin
R ather than doing a point-by-point comparison of Steve Martin's two novellas throughout the entire review, I'll get the rant out of the way now. The Pleasure of My Company is nowhere as sweet, intelligent, or funny as 2000's Shopgirl. Even though both books are slim, humanist tales set in Los Angeles, the characters in Martin's latest offering are less likable, his trademark similes are flatter, and the narrative thrust relies on the protagonist's gimmicky obsessive/idiot savant disorder.
Daniel Pecan Cambridge lives a solitary life in a small California apartment. The only meaningful human contact he has is with Clarissa, a psychiatry student who must visit "charity case" shut-ins to complete her degree. Daniel shares many of the same annoying neuroses as Christopher, the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He relates to numerical systems better than he does to other humans. He must have exactly 1125 watts of illumination on in his house at all times--no more, no less. He has a myriad of irrational phobias, including a dreaded fear of curbs. Leaving his block, therefore, is a grand excursion, and his private world is accordingly tiny.
Like Adam Sandler's character in Punch-Drunk Love, Daniel seems incapable of being totally honest with other humans, and so he comes across as alternately dimwitted and manipulative. His one safe haven away from home is the neighborhood Rite-Aid, brightly lit and antiseptic, and it's here that he enters the Tepperton's Pies Most Average American essay contest, the results of which carry us through the remainder of the novel. Unsurprisingly, Daniel learns to temper his neuroticism and behave somewhat socially by the book's end.
Martin throws in several chuckle-worthy scenes, including a road trip in which Daniel refuses to use any word with the letter "e" in it (the author's nod to George Perec's 1969 novel La Disparition?), and a few ludicrous, bold-faced lies that he must worm his way out of. These bright spots are like hitting a piece of meat in a skimpy chicken Caesar salad, though--too few and far between, and leaving the reader hungry for a more satisfactory meal down the road. CHAS BOWIE