I’m finally getting into the annals of unread books on my shelf. Last week was An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. It’s a fun read full of details on contemporary art and modern masters, but more interestingly a glimpse into the world of collecting, dealing and appraisal.
There’s one sentence that keeps sticking out to me. It’s on page 120:
“Lacey’s solo entrance into Boston was less important than Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, but not to Lacey.”
I can’t get the sentence structure out of my head. Why write it like that — stating the obvious, then capping it with the payoff — instead of how I would have put it: “To Lacey, her solo entrance into Boston was more important than Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.” Maybe that’s because my stories usually focus on the characters’ perspectives first, then the social norms they’re breaking. Or maybe it’s because I’m not as creative as Steve freakin’ Martin (which I’m totally OK with, by the way).
In the end, I realized it comes down to voice. Martin is famous as a comedian, and as a writer he’s able to translate that sense of humor into stories that aren’t necessarily side-splitting but still carry a sly smirk with every sentence. Although I’ll never list An Object of Beauty as one of my favorite books, I enjoyed getting a wider look at his talent, as well as being forced to examine my own voice as a writer.
We should all be so lucky to write seemingly mundane sentences that make such an impact on others.
He thought — and then red wine made him say it aloud — that he shouldn’t adore her so much. He dreaded how it would end for him.
The thing about adoration is that it fades fast, like a half-formed idea that’s forgotten among the hustle of a day only to reappear in the dead of night when he rolled over and smell her perfume on his skin, or hear in his head how she somehow could pronounce “literally” as “litchrally” without sounding pedantic. All he’d think about for the next 30 seconds of wakefulness was her: Wonderful, riveting her.
But dread? That’s what kept him up the rest of the night after her perfume had faded and voice had quieted. He studied the book of everything they had said, done, planned, agreed upon, disagreed upon, bonded over or fought over in hopes of calming or confirming his fears that this was a paperback beach read of a relationship. So many nights he stayed up reading and hoping with every page turn that he would find a passage that proved this wasn’t just an author’s cruel joke of a novel meant to make smart readers feel outmaneuvered.
Just as he rounded the 10th or 11th chapter — he had lost count of how many nights he had spent on her porch, on her couch, in her bed — he realized that he had to make a choice. He could keep running his eyes along every curve of every letter of every word, hoping to find a single phrase pointing to this relationship not being a waste of time.
Or he could leave this book, unfinished and unwanted, for someone else to try to decipher late at night. Best wishes to whoever cracked her spine next.