An Object of Beauty

PART

I

1.

I AM TIRED, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else.

My last name is Franks. Once, in college, Lacey grabbed my wallet and read my driver’s license aloud, discovering that my forenames are Daniel Chester French, after the sculptor who created the Abraham Lincoln memorial. I am from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where Daniel Chester French lived and worked, and my parents, being parochial Americans, didn’t realize that the name Daniel Chester French Franks read funny. Lacey told me she was related to the arts by blood, too, but declined to tell me the full story, saying, “Too long. Later I’ll tell you, French Fries.” We were twenty.

I left Stockbridge, a town set under the glow of its even more famous citizen, the painter of glad America, Norman Rockwell. It is a town that is comfortable with art, although uncomplicated art, not the kind that is taught in educational institutions after high school. My goal, once I discovered that my artistic aspirations were not accompanied by artistic talent, was to learn to write about art with effortless clarity. This is not as easy as it sounds: whenever I attempted it, I found myself in a convoluted rhetorical tangle from which there was no exit.

After high school, I went south to Davidson College in North Carolina, while Lacey drove north from Atlanta, and there, Lacey and I studied art history and had sex together exactly once.

Even at the age of twenty, Lacey’s entry into the classroom had the pizzazz of a Broadway star. Our eyes followed her down the aisle, where she would settle into her seat with a practiced hair-flip. When she left a room, there was a moment of deflation while we all returned to normal life. It was apparent to everyone that Lacey was headed somewhere, though her path often left blood in the water.

If one of her girlfriends was in a crisis, Lacey would rush in, offering tidal waves of concern. She could soothe or incite in the name of support: “Honey, get over it,” or, conversely, “Honey, get even.” Either bit of advice was inspiring. The emotions of men, however, were of a different order. They were pesky annoyances, small dust devils at her feet. Her knack for causing heartbreak was innate, but her vitality often made people forgive her romantic misdeeds. Now, however, she is nearing forty and not so easily forgiven as when her skin bloomed like roses.

I slept with her in our second year. I was on the rebound and managed to avoid devastation by reconnecting with my girlfriend days—or was it hours—later, and Lacey’s tentacles never had time to attach. But her sense of fun enchanted me, and once I had sufficiently armored myself against her allure by viewing her as a science project, I was able to enjoy the best parts of her without becoming ensnared.

I will tell you her story from my own recollections, from conversations I conducted with those around her, and, alas, from gossip: thank God the page is not a courtroom. If you occasionally wonder how I know about some of the events I describe in this book, I don’t. I have found that—just as in real life—imagination sometimes has to stand in for experience.

2.

LACEY’S LIFE AND MINE have paralleled each other for a long while. When we were twenty-three, our interest in art as a profession landed us both in New York City at a time when the art world was building offshore like a developing hurricane. Our periodic lunches caught me up with her exploits. Sometimes she showed up at a Manhattan café with a new boyfriend who was required to tolerate my unexplained presence, and when she excused herself to the restroom, the boyfriend and I would struggle for conversation while he tried to discover if I was an ex-lover, as he soon would be.

In August 1993, she showed up at one of these lunches in a summer dress so transparent that when she passed between me and a bay window hot with sunlight, the dress seemed to incinerate like flash paper. Her hair was clipped back with a polka-dot plastic barrette, which knocked about five years off her age.

“Ask me where I was,” she said.

“And if I don’t?”

She made a small fist and held it near my face. “Then socko.”

“Okay,” I said. “Where were you?”

“At the Guggenheim.