If you thought the Martian outdid himself with Shopgirl, prepare yourself for another tasty zinger. If you felt that it stank – fear not either.
Meet Daniel, a person who causes comedic blood pressure to soar and eyeballs to stream red. Meet an author who waxes lyrical prose that glides just like a swan. A novel so delightfully engaging, The Pleasure of My Company is guilty of nothing except of its ability to live up to its name.
In his fifth book, Steve Martin blows perkiness into a 30-year-old character carrying an innate fear of curbs. Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a genius who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder and creates Benjamin Franklin’s painstaking Magic Squares for fun; a nut who scored a 190 for his IQ test – can’t for the love of anything, cross a street without wetting himself from fear.
Set in the oceanic heart of Santa Monica, he watches people from his apartment with an endearing loneliness and pontificates about life like a goldfish stuck in a bowl.
Insert Elizabeth the Realtor, Clarissa the therapist and Zandy, a pharmacist who works at the local Rite Aid. The objects of Daniel’s affection, he plots in his mind the different and hilarious ways to win them over. None of them ever work though. There is also his wealthy, but basket-case of a Granny who endorses his unemployed status with faithful monthly cheques and letters. With his wanna-be actress, neighbour Philipa and her ‘mushroom’ brained of a boyfriend Brian, Martin creates an environment just livable for a neurotic like Daniel.
But when Mensa misses the digit one before the ‘90’ on his score sheet, (thus rejecting his application,) Daniel’s life begins on a journey full of twists and turns. A failed one-night stand attempt at his neighbour causes him to bond with Neanderthal Brian instead. He enters Tepperton’s Apple Pie essay contest, both as himself and under a fictitious name. What next, when Daniel and Lenny the Pseudonym qualify for two of the finalists? And when Clarissa’s son, Teddy, develops a father-like affection for Daniel, things can only point in an awry direction…
What strikes a chord with us readers is the transformation of the daily mill into something so priceless and eventful. The precision of Martin’s eye for passed-over details is exactly what the turnovers hinge upon. Lenny Burns’s winning essay – written at a fleeting moment of ogling at Zandy the local cute blonde, forces Daniel to emerge from his nut-hole. He has no choice but to embrace the world outside, cross a road to receive his prize, and face up to his ludicrous fear of the killer curbs.
The authenticity of Daniel’s dewy-eyed moments while reading Granny’s letters and infallible relationship with Elizabeth in his mind, (‘even though she didn’t know [his] name,’) is simplicity written at its best. Like ‘saving the center of the Oreo for last,’ the best bits of the book are relinquished till its very last drop. They depict at the core, a touching relationship he shares with another other than his self-imposed quirks. He speaks of them with an infinite tenderness, finding it unable to explain to us ‘the reasons why it’s easy to tell another, and not to the person’ herself. In his heartwarming confessions, we grow to realize that it is ironically these meandering and minute incidents, which ultimately pivot our world.
The string-along structure of fragmented thoughts becomes one’s chauffeur in Daniel’s world as our eyes take on the retrospective of ‘Insane Man Chosen as Most Average American.’ Here is where Martin silently turns the tables against us. We are now the nutcases as Daniel is converted by us into the normal. The subtle insistence of ‘I don’t know how they can do it, isn’t a curb forbidding?’ and ‘My charisma has yet to fully bloom,’ craftily questions our rights from wrongs and punctuates logic with a liberated lightness. We chuckle when we end up doubting ourselves and presumed beliefs, rather than those from the oddball of a narrator.
Connecting a dot-to-dot-like sequence can prove rather choppy especially when the action accelerates with no apparent reason. When Daniel receives a cryptic letter from Granny, he embarks on a hasty road-trip with the weirdest combination of psychiatrist Clarissa and son Teddy. It does seem a little unnecessary until we realize it to be an emblematic journey of self-discovery.
Whatever glitches we may find in this novel seems too trivial to be fussed over when there is so much of Martin to be astounded by. The Pleasure of My Company deserves another round of applause in leaving us with an afterglow of basking in well-done sunshine, daisies and nostalgia from poignant moments of a still heart.