Picks and Pans Review: The Pleasure of My Company

updated 10/13/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/13/2003 01:00AM

By Steve Martin
FICTION
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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The ageless Steve Martin—does he look five minutes older than he did when Jimmy Carter was President?—continues to mature as a writer. His second charming novella (after 2000's Shopgirl) is about a mildly crazy guy who crawls out of his shell thanks to a road trip and a little lad. Think Rain Man meets About a Boy. Our obsessive-compulsive narrator, Daniel Cambridge, is able to function on his own in his Santa Monica apartment, but barely; he can't hold a job, so he lives off Granny's checks. He also has to have 1125 watts of light burning at all times, even when he's asleep. He's lonely, of course—"There are few takers for the quiet heart"—but also a little bit brilliant.

It's a mistake to think of Martin as just a gut buster of a comedian. On the page his gifts for subtlety and slyness compare to those of the finest comic novelists. This sweet, simple, gentle story is dusted with confectioner's sugar, not floating in syrup.

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