Obscene Bodies

Kim Benabib, Author
Kim Benabib, Author HarperCollins Publishers $22 (0p) ISBN 978-0-06-017437-8
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If the title of Benabib's debut satire of the art world invokes the master of clique-bashing, Evelyn Waugh, and his novel Vile Bodies, this story of culture-clash and disillusionment in the art world delivers us to the land of Vanity Fair, Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney. The bodies in question are those of some Manhattan art mafiosi, but the title also refers to their slang term for the hip-hyped art they peddle and, eventually, a hanger-on's corpse at the bottom of an elevator shaft in SoHo. The protagonist, earnest, young art historian Stuart Finley, falls in with this modish crowd after starting out as lucky as a New Yorker can get, with a rent-controlled apartment, an assistant curator's job at the Met and a renowned mentor. His entree to the downtown art world comes by way of the alluring Claire Labrouste, a Sotheby's specialist in contemporary art. The cast includes the puffed-up-and-coming artist Miles Levy, who has one chic dealer in SoHo for his work and another for his drug habit, influential gallery-owner David Lieberthal and flak-catching PR heavy Susan Edelman, who, as one character puts it, can turn public relations into performance art. When the scandal of his assistant's death threatens Levy's career, his support team descends for damage control, involving Stuart, who begins to find his own comfortable assumptions at risk. Benabib's juicy and often amusing social satire and his teeming array of targets entertain, though the characters remain mostly formulaic. Rights: ICM. (Sept.)
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