One fun thing about Steve Martin’s recent novel An Object of Beauty is the chance at voyeurism: He seems to be reporting his own history in romance and sex.  He overflows with ardor in routine references to actual spots in Manhattan: dinner at Boulud; the West Side Highway, where women biking turn him on; the Carlyle hotel (that’s a coda through the book: “expensive and impeccable, the Carlyle Hotel was art central” (130)).  His excitement over these spots feels a bit like confession. 

 

Martin also seems to reveal some of his true insecurities in the novel, insofar as his two main male characters share parallel, palpable anxieties in dating.  These two men—the narrator and a Frenchman—were both born less attractive than the ideal, and less suave, so they feel nervous about winning their women.  Their nervousness feels like inside reporting: I can imagine the Martin I’ve seen on T.V. and in some other public places choosing his black rimmed glasses and his crisp white shirts, trying to deliver a style that doesn’t come easily. 

 

So the book sometimes feels like a Manhattan-soaked dating guide: A nerd’s tips on winning the type of “uptown women” (he uses the term often) that Martin’s been able to date.  (He has dated real beauties.  See Anne Heche here and his current wife Anne Stringfield here.)

 

You should go read the book if you’re interested in the modern New York art scene—this is a fun tour through the world of art giants like Larry Gagosian and Roman Abramovich—but I can still milk some pulp from the fruit by going to the sex stuff, rattling off the dating tips that rise from the novel like confessions from the famously nerdy-but-sexy comedian.

 

1. Be Witty. But Don’t Just Banter

 

“Lacey, do you realize that you’ve never said one thing to me that is not banter?” (136)

 

The book traces Lacey Yeager as she grows into her sex appeal.  She enters the world of art dealing as a woman in her 20’s and quickly learns to exude the confidence and style that mesmerizes clients and other dealers.  Multiple men in the book try to win her over and learn lessons from her charisma while they do it. 

 

One is this: Be cheery in conversation, but be careful that you’re not stuck in banter mode.  Martin seems to equate the art of conversation with adulthood (“adult” is a word he uses with near obsessional frequency in this book.  Who looks adult and why? is his fixation).  For Martin, “adulthood” is the ability to feel anxiety but contain it: An adult doubts his own likeability but also knows the world is only beautiful when we perform a bit.  Make dinner plans and tell good jokes when you get there.  Good conversation is the ability to be witty and only occasionally reference the true and depressive.  An adult is a container: Anxiety is modulated; good conversation is kept ambitiously afloat; plans are made for future dinners and trips to foreign places.  The confident have seen the abyss but nonetheless move forward.

 

2. Dress the Part.  Eventually You’ll Feel It.

 

“She looked so beautiful that I thought I didn’t belong with her.  But my best behavior makes me look better: I stand up straighter, and I’m more polished, the way I’ve seen other men to be” (243). 

 

If you’re not born cool, you can still project it; you just need to dress the part, and eventually you will play the part.  Men around Lacy learn to dress well.  Eventually they do it naturally.

 

Lacey herself largely makes her transition from naive downtown girl to seductive uptown success by daring to buy expensive clothes and invest in big art deals, before even she expects herself able to do it.  Ballsy acts promote growth.  Wear the clothes and do the behaviors of your parent figures, your ego ideals, and eventually you will quack like your ego ideals.  “Her strut appropriately modified, her girlishness tempered and grown up for the richest shopping promenade in Manhattan, Lacey had artfully tailored her downtown vibrancy to an acceptable uptown chic” (188). 

 

3. A Dinner Seals Commitment

 

This is probably a particularly New York thing, but there’s lots of strategizing about booking powerful dinners in the book.  The narrator and the Frenchman value expensive dinners as a way to move a sexual relationship from casual to committed.  You’ve got to pick the right dinner venue—one with the power to impress—and make the seduction over food long and somewhat sexless.  Dinner is an important modern dating ritual, akin to a bird’s building a nest for its mate.

 

“Immediate sofa sex would be a short engagement, and he preferred the promise of a long entwinement between the perfumed sheets of the Carlyle’s kind-size bed” (187).  The Frenchman has that thought before dinner, as Lacey meets him in his room at the Carlyle.  They could have immediate romance, but tonight’s the night for his long seductive dinner.  Build the commitment through looking at each other for hours, drinking, having the sort of buoyant conversation alluded to in bulletpoint one above, and postponing the sex.  Martin just loves how a dinner at a place that impresses is “[more] major, [more] symbolic” than a dinner with friends somewhere forgettable.

 

 Have you read An Object of Beauty?  Did you like it?

 

Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.


0 Kudos
Comments
by on ‎12-15-2010 05:31 PM

Steve Martin’s Sketch of the Art World

By JULIE BOSMAN Published: November 17, 2010 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/books/18martin.html?_r=1

by on ‎12-16-2010 01:38 PM

One fun thing about Steve Martin’s recent novel An Object of Beauty is the chance at voyeurism: He seems to be reporting his own history in romance and sex.  He overflows with ardor in routine references to actual spots in Manhattan: dinner at Boulud; the West Side Highway, where women biking turn him on; the Carlyle hotel (that’s a coda through the book: “expensive and impeccable, the Carlyle Hotel was art central” (130)).  His excitement over these spots feels a bit like confession. 

 

 

This first paragraph, in the report/review of this book turned me off from wanting to read the rest of the blog, but I did, anyway, because I wanted to see where it was leading.  To approach a novel, with the eyes of a voyeur, seemed confessional in itself.

 

I found the subject's in this blog rather interesting, but I feel stuck.  I haven't read this book, so feel uniformed as to how I would go about commenting on these details.   Relationships, in the realm of dating, aren't in my line of view at this time.  So, I'm going to take it off into another direction, with the risk of being shrinked online, or being seen through the eyes of a voyeur.

 

A large discussion came up this week at my writers meeting, about the differences between men readers and women readers.  What I read of my own work was the catalyst that started this whole debate.  I took it into the subject of writers.

 

I believe that most (not all), men writers tell their stories without any conscious effort in how they will, or won't, appeal to a woman's senses, or most anyone's senses for that matter.  Ray doesn't believe in any of this psychological "subconscious crap", and he's writing about the most sensitive subjects, with no apparent emotional investment in his character.  He uses words like "ashamed" for his character, but with no feelings attached.  

 

When I read from my work the words, "pain in the ass", I thought Ray would fall out of his chair laughing.  I had to stop reading.  It wasn't intended to be funny.  It was a terribly serious subject.  The women in our group didn't laugh, the other [two] men [uncomfortably] waited for Ray to stop laughing, and in the meantime,  I had to do a little dance around this, with unintended explanations as to why I used that phrase.  No, it wasn't meant to be comic relief. 

 

Someone who is intuitive and sensitive to words (as you are, Ilana), is going to pick up on the most subconscious confessions. (Someone who is not, is going to view words at [literal] face value.) Eyes are drawn to seeing what we want to see in writers' words; what is relevant at the time, personalize them, and subconsciously ask, do I want to relate? 

by Lurker on ‎12-17-2010 11:23 AM

I think I need to read this book.  I probably could use a few lessons.

by Blogger IlanaSimons on ‎12-17-2010 12:10 PM

spoiler: I know Lurker personally.

 

Lurker, you have already mastered the tips.  Take, for instance, this description below, which you could have written from your own life playbook.

 

"For Martin, "adulthood” is the ability to feel anxiety but contain it: An adult doubts his own likeability but also knows the world is only beautiful when we perform a bit.  Make dinner plans and tell good jokes when you get there.  Good conversation is the ability to be witty and only occasionally reference the true and depressive.  An adult is a container: Anxiety is modulated; good conversation is kept ambitiously afloat; plans are made for future dinners and trips to foreign places.  The confident have seen the abyss but nonetheless move forward."

 

You are the one who plans dinners, keeps conversation afloat, plans trips, and moves forward in spite of frequent glimpses at the abyss.

by on ‎12-17-2010 10:37 PM

ahhhh

two words I detest:

Voyeur

    &

Lurker

Nothing personal.

by on ‎12-18-2010 01:36 PM

My reactions are scary, especially to my feelings about certain words.  Nightmares =  I slept horribly after posting that response.  It's all making sense to me now.  I played a little Charlie Chan/voyeur/lurker this morning....Bravo!  And congratulations.

About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.

Advertisement

Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Categories