AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY (Grand Central, $26.99) is the novel for the art-lover in your life. Steve Martin chronicles the last quarter-century of the New York City art scene with a discerning eye, skewering wit, and insider knowledge of a collector. The reader can decide what the true object of beauty is. It could be the real-life paintings themselves, reproduced beautifully on the page and critiqued thoughtfully by Martin through his narrator’s persona. It could equally be Lacey Yeager, the young, ambitious, bright, scheming, and attractive lover of art, money, and men, in that order. Lacey rises from the basement of Sotheby’s to become a dominant player in the world of taste and profit-making. In this page-turner, Martin combines the true appraisal of great and worthy art with the back-room dealings and the private agendas of collectors and critics that ultimately decide what an object of beauty is worth. The result is surprising.
ALL IS FORGOTTEN, NOTHING IS LOST (W.W. Norton, $23.95) is a small book with a lot of power. Lan Samantha Chang follows Roman from his time as a desperate, aspiring poetry student to his later success as a Pulitzer Prize-winning writing professor. His life takes a turn when he begins an affair with Miranda, his mysterious, confident poetry professor. In the years ahead he struggles to come to terms with what the affair meant to his career, his art, and his heart. With delicate, beautiful prose, and a unique yet oddly familiar story, Chang pierces the depths of friendship, love, art, nostalgia, and regret with breathtaking precision. This is the kind of novel you can’t leave without knowing a little more about yourself.
Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) takes on many subjects, but at its heart it’s the story of an American family living in the first part of the 21st century. Walter and Patty Berglund seem like a typical young Minneapolis couple. She’s a former college basketball star and he’s dedicated his career to environmental pursuits. When their son Joey becomes involved with the girl next door and her family, though, Patty’s behavior grows erratic. Then Walter signs on with a bird sanctuary that is actually a front for mountaintop mining, and he’s vilified in the local press. These are just the jumping off points for Franzen and his ambitious and far-reaching exploration of the American family at this point in history.