TNR: Steve Martin Writes Poorly, Knows Nothing About Art

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Steve Martin is best known for his fun, silly movies about bums who strike it rich and mad scientists who fall in love with Sissy Spacek's jar-bound brain. One wonders, therefore, what fans must make of his burgeoning literary career that has, since 2000, yielded a deathly-serious memoir and novels about obsessive compulsive disorder and a depressed young woman living alone in Los Angeles. We know, at least, what Andrew Butterfield, writing for The New Republic, thinks of it.

Martin's latest novel, An Object of Beauty, is set in the New York art world and is also about an emotionally vulnerable woman navigating life alone in the big city. This, you will recall, is the book Martin attempted to discuss at an event at the 92nd Street Y several weeks ago, before an organizer told him the audience really was there to hear about Three Amigos.

Preference for the funny Steve Martin over the somber Steve Martin aside, based on our own observations of his post-1983 film career and the solid reviews for his first two novels, we think it's reasonable to assume An Object of Beauty will not be the worst novel ever written.

That would be a mistake, advises Andrew Butterfield in his brutal New Republic review. A rundown of the Butterworth's biggest swings at both author and text which, in a prime bit of article confusion, he refers to as The Object of Beauty throughout the review:

  • "A nasty exercise in narcissism, particularly in the narcissism of the famous."
  • "Masquerades as a social satire."
  • "Just a drab soap opera about the doings of one superficially hot but deeply unappealing young woman."
  • "Martin is too lazy or too diffident to try to describe this universe freshly or in detail."
  • "The reader of this novel is like a tourist banished to the outside of the velvet rope."
  • "The way people dress, how they talk, what they do: [Martin] misses almost all of it."
  • "He has put all this together out of banalities and cliches, as if he did his research by skimming back issues of Vanity Fair and watching re-runs of Sex and the City."
  • "With unintended irony, everything is Martin's book is a brand, a mass-produced badge of belonging to the elite."
  • "Not merely fiction, it is magical realism"
  • "The writing in the novel is by turns dull, flat, ugly, and inept."
  • "So bad, so silly, that one must charitably wonder if Martin means it to be a parody."
  • "What it most resembles is the writing of a college student hurriedly answering an exam question."
  • "Vacant nonsense."
  • "If it is a satire, it satirizes itself."
  • "Complacent and forgettable."

Which reminds us, Andrew Butterworth: as much as we admire your shoes, and as much as we'd love to have a pair just like them, we really wouldn't want to be in your shoes at this particular time and place.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.