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Book Case
The Fine Art of Narcissism
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 7 page 6-6

An Object of Beauty

By Steve Martin

Grand Central Publishing

$26.99, 304 pages

Steve Martin's brilliance is evident from the way he has conducted his multifaceted career. He is an actor, comedian, banjo player, and storyteller. In his third novel, An Object of Beauty, Martin tells the story of Lacey Yeager. Lacey is a narcissist. She exploits her professional peers, clients, and higher-ups, not to mention her lovers, family, and friends. Lacey is fearless and ambitious. During her on-the-job education in art, she begins to use paintings in the same way she uses people. She finds that everything seems to have a price, and she transforms objects of beauty into objects of value.

Lacey's tale unfolds over the course of about two decades and follows her climb out of the basement of Sotheby's auction house to a prestigious position at a high-end Madison Avenue art gallery and to a down-town gallery of her own. As she rides the art bubble of the 1990s, nothing seems to stop Lacey's success. Even the tragic attacks of September 11 appear in the novel as only a minor impediment along Lacey's bicycle ride down the primrose path.

Martin cleverly works into the narrative an art-history education, including 22 reproductions of quirkily varied artworks, from a festive Tissot to a starkly simple Milton Avery to a Warhol depiction of Marilyn Monroe. All are integrated in ways that advance the story, underscore Martin's critical acuity, and kindle the instinct of a collector in even the most indifferent reader.

An Object of Beauty is more than a novel. It is a character study of a narcissistic personality, not to mention a smart guide through the glittering world of art and its commerce. After reading this novel, one is left to decipher just what the object of beauty is. Is it the paintings, which can go from valuable to valueless on a whim, or is it Lacey? Either way, it is fun to watch this antiheroine climb out of Sotheby's basement and then ride the art bubble. Tragically, Lacey's emotional bankruptcy likewise makes it somewhat satisfying for the reader to watch that bubble burst. 6_2.inline-graphic-1.gif

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Helen Farrell, M.D., is a forensic psychiatry fellow at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.

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