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Steve Martin programs 'Pleasure' for the big screen

Sunday, October 26, 2003

By Brian Hyslop, Post-Gazette Associate Editor

Daniel Pecan Cambridge is trapped in Los Angeles. To be more precise, the hero of Steve Martin's new novel is trapped in a world of his neurotic compulsions.

 
 

"The Pleasure of My Company"

Steve Martin
Hyperion ($19.95)

   
 
 

Daniel can't step off a curb unless there are two scooped-out driveways opposite each other. He has to maintain 1,125 watts of lighting in his apartment at all times. At one point, he won't allow himself to speak any word that contains the letter "e."

But the saddest trap of all for this delightfully charming character is the trap of this screenplay masquerading as a novel.

This novel, like its protagonist, is thoroughly engaging and entertaining, at least at first. Daniel's struggles to reacquaint himself with the pleasures of human interaction are at turns funny, heart-wrenching and inspiring.

The story opens with Daniel watching the world pass by from the window of his modest Santa Monica apartment. He "falls in love" with Elizabeth, a real estate agent who leases apartments across the street.

Of course, the fact that she doesn't know he exists hardly deters him. "But there was a time when Liz Taylor and Richard Burton had never met, yet it doesn't mean they weren't, in some metaphysical place, already in love," he reflects.

Of course, he's also in love with Zandy, who works at the Rite Aid he visits regularly "seeking out the rare household item such as cheesecloth."

The most influential woman in his life, though, turns out to be Clarissa, the social worker whose personal life he adopts as his own.

As his world slowly expands to include Clarissa's son, his neighbor Philipa and her boy-friend Brian, Daniel faces his neuroses more directly with the help of his increasingly loyal friends.

It's comedian/actor/writer Martin who betrays Daniel and the reader by taking a decidedly Hollywood turn. It's as if the ending were the result of numerous focus group interactions.

Martin, whose previous nov-ella "Shopgirl" is well on its way to becoming a motion picture in which he will also star, isn't writing books so much as creating acting gigs for himself.

He has constructed a quirky, lovable character (not unlike ones he has played in numerous films), but he doesn't believe in his audience -- I mean readers. The novel should have ended with Daniel taking his first, furtive steps into society. But rather than leave well enough alone, Martin spoils the story by continuing for another 4 1/2 pages of treacle that would have been better left for the screen adaptation.

On the cover of the dust jacket, just below the title, are the words "A Novel." Martin would have been better served if he had remembered that it doesn't read "A Screenplay."


Brian Hyslop can be reached at bhyslop@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1936.

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