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.
Emma Donoghue’s novel ROOM (Little, Brown, $24.99) is told through the irrepressible and naive voice of Jack, a five-year-old who has lived his entire life inside an 11’ x 11’ shed. Jack’s depiction of “Room,” as he calls it, belies the horrid reality that exists for him and “Ma,” his only friend, teacher, and protector from “Old Nick,” who keeps them both captive. Donoghue takes an unthinkable situation and challenges the reader to relate to it in familiar ways. The magic here is not in creating an epic novel that covers generations and a constellation of characters, for which many authors have been praised, but in crafting an intimate story of a mother, a son, and how they survive and support each other in a confined space. Later, as Jack and Ma re-enter society, the narrative reveals how much “Room” has affected them both, and details the challenging process of individuation and recovery from trauma and deprivation. Skillful storytelling reveals the pair’s confusion and resilience, and will have you caring and rooting for them as they deal with the aftermath of a life they never chose.
Jane Leavy’s remarkable biography of Mickey Mantle, THE LAST BOY (HarperCollins, $27.99), both explains and deconstructs the mythology of a man everyone loved but few understood. Through exhaustive research, hundreds of interviews, and an ability to be fair, truthful, and insightful, Leavy leads the reader through seminal points in Mantle’s life. In doing so, she reveals the human side of the legend, his struggles, his injuries, his meteoric rise to celebrity, and his effect on those both inside and outside his life. Leavy has hit a tape- measure home run of a book, and the wind was against her.