Review

The Pleasure of My Company: A Novel

by Steve Martin



In SHOPGIRL, Steve Martin proved he could write a good, engaging
novel. In THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY, Martin proves he can tell a
great story!

Daniel Pecan Cambridge wants what everyone wants: love. As the
title suggests, Daniel spends a great deal of time alone. He lives
out his days almost exclusively in his antiseptic, highly organized
Santa Monica apartment. He ventures out only if he can navigate the
8-inch-high curbs he fears and avoid gas station attendants in blue
hats. Daniel has obsessive-compulsive disorder.

His search for love fills the book. It sends him to the local Rite
Aid via a safe route to ogle Zandy, the young blond behind the
counter: "The Rite Aid is the axle around which my squeaky world
turns, I find myself there two or three days a week seeking out the
rare household item such as cheesecloth." He dilly-dallies,
checking out earplugs and "liquid-filled shoe inserts that claim to
prevent varicose veins" while watching Zandy from afar. Killing
time he even enters a contest: the Tepperton's Apple Pie Most
Average American Essay Contest --- not once, but twice. Once as
Daniel Pecan Cambridge and the other time as "Lenny Burns."

The love search also sends him across the street to the polished
Elizabeth, a real estate agent dealing with condos in his
neighborhood. Daniel is obsessed with her, and fabricates
meaningful exchanges out of experiences that are as mundane as
passing each other on the street. He asks himself how he should
talk to her: "Act like myself," he suggests. And then we peek into
the workings of his mind. Rejected by Mensa (a clerical error, he
estimates), he ponders the expression "Act like myself." "Let's say
my shopping list consists of two items: soy sauce and talcum
powder. Soy sauce and talcum powder could not be more dissimilar.
So here's my point. This question I'm flipping around --- what it
means to act like myself --- is related to the soy sauce issue. Soy
and talc are mutually exclusive. Soy is not talc, and vice versa. I
am not someone else, someone else is not me. Yet we're available in
the same store. The store of existence. This is how I think, which
vividly illustrates Mensa's loss." And vividly illustrates Martin's
talent.

Elizabeth and Daniel do eventually speak in Daniel's plot to get to
know her, but he inflates the significance of their "relationship"
in his mind so much so that when he turns his affections elsewhere,
Steve Martin, in a beautifully descriptive and funny passage,
compares Clarissa (his new object of affection) to Elizabeth: "She
reflected light; Elizabeth sucked it up. Clarissa was a sunburst;
Elizabeth a moon pie. So now my preoccupation with Elizabeth became
a post-occupation as I turned my Cyclops eye onto Clarissa. Yes, I
would always love Elizabeth in some way, and one day we would be
able to see each other again but it was too soon right now. Better
to let her handle her own pain, with her own friends, in her own
way. But Elizabeth was at fault here. She had destroyed whatever
was between us by making a profound gaffe: she met me."

And then love sends Daniel to Texas, to the home of his family, and
it's there that we discover the genesis of Daniel's disorder and
that he is in fact capable of true unconditional love. It is no
wonder that he wins the "Most Average American" contest --- not
once, but twice. Despite his debilitating disorder he is the
average Joe. And Steve Martin has written a tremendously tender and
comic story about being that average Joe who counts ceiling tiles,
adds up the household light bulb wattages, and harbors a host of
other protective defenses and rituals rendered funny with Martin's
clever pen.

Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 22, 2011

The Pleasure of My Company: A Novel
by Steve Martin

  • Publication Date: October 6, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786888016
  • ISBN-13: 9780786888016