Author: Steve Martin

2010, Grand Central Publishing

Filed Under: Literary

This is, by all accounts, a very good novel. What immediately strikes you upon reading this is that it is not funny. I don’t mean that it fails to be funny, I meant that it doesn’t try–and doesn’t need humor to succeed. Steve Martin is one of the most recognizable comedians in the world, so you kind of assume he’s going dip into his wit every so often.

But Martin never pulls from that pool. The book is more successful for that restraint. I knew coming into this book that Martin is an excellent writer. I loved his memoir, Born Standing Up, and whenever I see his name on the contents table in a New Yorker issue, I read it immediately. He is well-read, and skilled with words, and his dry wit is unmatched in precision.

By not joking around, Martin shows his competence as a writer. The plot, characters, and narration are very, very tight in this book. It’s not overly serious or haughty, not heavy-handed or deadpan. It almost seems that Martin turned off his performer side and switched on a novelist one (something that is not always met with success, e.g. Wilder, Cave).

Lacey Yaeger is beautiful and ambitious. An up-and-comer in the art world, she starts at the bottom of the ladder as a clerk at Sotheby’s. After losing that job, she enters the dealer space and trades her way up to a position in a prestigious dealership. As she grows as a player on the art scene, Lacey finds herself increasingly drawn to owning art and reaching new echelons of class. She becomes so drunk with the idea that she more than once steps outside the lines to achieve her goals.

It is immediately apparent that Martin did a lot of research for the book. The clarity with which he describes the New York art circles is impressive; he describes the objects they trade and dote on with equal precision. This couples with excellent writing and authorial craft to create a rather mesmerising book.

It’s a subtle read; there is little action or tension. And it’s not perfect. For instance, Lacey’s legal missteps early in her career come to haunt her later. While this provides an undercurrent for the story, it’s a whisper of a haunt that comes too late and doesn’t pack any bite. It does serve the purpose of tying things up neatly. Still, it is outshined by the characters and character arcs it was placed to connect.

This is a very good book and worth a read. Anyone who enjoys literary novels should give it a shot. It’s not demanding and it would make for a literary great beach read. I wish I could give Steve Martin a high five.

Similar Reads: Chronic City (Lethem), It Feels So Good When I Stop (Pernice), This is Where I Leave You (Tropper)