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{short description of image}Fair Warning
Author: Robert Olen Butler
Published: 2002
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
ISBN: 0-87113-833-6
Price: $24.00 Date:
Page Count: 225
Reviewer: Linda Sappenfield


Thanks to Antiques Roadshow, the American public can now chat terms like “provenance” with the same ease that we exchange sports trivia. So, having mastered the basics of collectibles, we wonder about the collectors. Who are those photogenic experts who impart esoterica so casually? Does their familiarity with valuables affect their values? Are they different than you and me?

Amy Dickerson is and is not. Her star status at Nichols & Gray, a New York auction house, sets her apart (as do her beauty, salary level, and utterly tasteful apartment). However, Amy establishes some real-person credentials by confessing that she disgraced herself on her seventh birthday by auctioning off her three-year-old sister. Moreover, she grew up in Houston, attended cattle auctions with her father in a futile attempt to win his approval, has unresolved issues with her mother and sister, and achieved the age of forty without experiencing a satisfying relationship. Like the rest of us, Amy drags along some emotional baggage. Personal issues do not conveniently recede into the background as a major career challenge, the corporate takeover of Nichols & Gray, looms. Amy is offered attractive terms in the reorganization but soon perceives that the new owner, a charming Frenchman, is as bent upon acquiring Amy personally as he is in securing her firm’s reputation and experience.

Amy’s auctioneering persona enhances the story on more than one level. The bid-to-bid exchanges between Amy and her buyers, spiced with the auctioneer’ s insightful patter, offer glimpses into the world of high-dollar collecting. Pulitzer winner Robert Olen Butler contrasts the forthright chronicle that Amy grants to the reader with the clever, often manipulative spiel that she directs toward “the room” during auctions. In addition, Butler inspires larger questions: What moves collectors (and we all are) to focus on a particular attribute? Why must everything be owned? When Amy confides early on that, “I love my job. I collect and am collected”, she believes the assertion to be both true and inevitable. However, as Amy’s own acquisition nears, she questions, as we do, the rightness of allowing the collector to determine the nature of the object’s value. Readers who have been won over by Amy’s candor will follow her actions with interest.

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Last Updated 10/10/02

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