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Shopgirl: A Novella Hardcover – October 11, 2000
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Steve Martin's first foray into fiction is as assured as it is surprising. Set in Los Angeles, its fascination with the surreal body fascism of the upper classes feels like the comedian's familiar territory, but the shopgirl of the book's title may surprise his fans. Mirabelle works in the glove department of Neiman's, "selling things that nobody buys any more." Spending her days waiting for customers to appear, Mirabelle "looks like a puppy standing on its hind legs, and the two brown dots of her eyes, set in the china plate of her face, make her seem very cute and noticeable." Lonely and vulnerable, she passes her evenings taking prescription drugs and drawing "dead things," while pursuing an on-off relationship with the hopeless Jeremy, who possesses "a slouch so extreme that he appears to have left his skeleton at home." Then Mr. Ray Porter steps into Mirabelle's life. He is much older, rich, successful, divorced, and selfish, desiring her "without obligation." Complicating the picture is Mirabelle's voracious rival, her fellow Neiman's employee Lisa, who uses sex "for attracting and discarding men."
The mutual incomprehension, psychological damage, and sheer vacuity practiced by all four of Martin's characters sees Shopgirl veer rather uncomfortably between a comedy of manners and a much darker work. There are some startling passages of description and interior monologue, but the characters are often rather hazy types. Martin tries too hard in his attempt to write a psychologically intense novel about West Coast anomie, but Shopgirl is still an enjoyable, if rather light, read. --Jerry Brotton
From Publishers Weekly
Movie star Martin shone in the comic essays of last year's Pure DrivelAbut can he write serious fiction? His debut novella gives fans a chance to find out. Shy, depressed, young, lonely and usually broke, Vermont-bred Mirabelle Butterfield sells gloves at the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus (nobody ever buys); at night, she watches TV with her two cats. Martin's slight plot follows Mirabelle's search for loveAor at least romance and companionshipAwith middle-aged Ray Porter, a womanizing Seattle millionaire who may, or may not, have hidden redeeming qualities. Also in and out of Mirabelle's life are a handful of supporting characters, all of them lonely and alienated, too. There's her father, a dysfunctional Vietnam vet; the laconic, unambitious Jeremy; and Mirabelle's promiscuous, body-obsessed co-worker Lisa. Detractors may call Martin's plot predictable, his characters stereotypes. Admirers may answer thatAas in Douglas CouplandAthese aren't stereotypes but modern archetypes, whose lives must be streamlined if they are to represent ours. Except for its love-hate relations with L.A., little about this book sounds much like Martin; its anxious, sometimes flat prose style can be affecting or disorienting, and belongs somewhere between Coupland and literary chroniclers of depression like Lydia Davis. Martin's first novel is finally neither a triumph nor a disaster: it's yet another of this intelligent performer's attempts to expand his range, and those who will buy it for the name on the cover could do a lot worse. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
I HIGHLY recommend this book.
I had to abandon "House of Cards" on Netflix after 3 or 4 episodes because of the creepy, dirty sex. So, yeah, I'm that guy and I'm sure this invalidates whatever I may say here for a lot of people.
I saw him first in the Seventies when he was still working 100 person rooms. I honestly think that he extended my first marriage several years, simply by his being, as my then wife put it, the first man "I've seen who's crazier than you." (I was honored then and am humbled now.) From the arrow through his head to the "I've got happy feet" routine, he could easily be said to have honed the ridiculous its keenest edge.
Now comes "Shopgirl", a sublime novella that reads like a poem, written in the present tense, with pluperfect timing and a natural rhythm that understands both the prism of the mind and the darkness that invades its gloomiest depths.
Without naming names and explicating plot twists, (It is a novella, of course, and even a little explicating goes a long way towards replicating, and then what's the use of buying the book.) there are few people of insight who will not identify some with one or more the characters, to the point even of wondering how Martin could have possibly known that about them.
Buy this book, but do yourself a favor. Don't speed through it. Savor it. Read each word and feel each meaning, for this work is as much about writing as it is about disaster and triumph. It must have been an exquisite pain the Martin endured to write something this sublime and this revealing.
Most great comics are also great tragedians, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, for example. Martin's depth is telling. What hath he wrought (or is it writ)? He may think I'm way off base, but imagine Olive Oyl meets Sylvia Plath and the Frog/Prince. You can't? Then buy this book.
I'd be surprised if you didn't think it fit like a glove.
The reader immediately got a sense of the hand-to-mouth existence Mirabelle was leading due to this almost dead-end, low-paying job at Nieman Marcus. I was touched by the sentence about the one thing she really wanted: "someone to talk to". Later in the book, Martin made her paralyzing depression so very real to me that I could feel her desperation and clearly imagine her hitting bottom, emotionally.
Here's a *Martinism* I loved...he calls Beverly Boulevard a "chameleon street". Very clever choice of words. Here's another: "One man stands in the kitchen of a two-million dollar house that overlooks the city, and the other in a one-room garage apartment that the city overlooked."
Mirabelle's relationship with the elusive and wealthy Ray Porter is played out in this short but ultimately satisfying novel, proving that a good author can tell a complete story in only 130 pages. Mirabelle and Ray dance around each other, both misinterpreting the nuances of the relationship. While I felt sorry for Mirabelle and her less-than-ideal life, I also felt sorry for Ray. He was the real proof of the cliche that "money cannot buy happiness."
I would highly recommend this book. If you have any chance to read or listen to any of Martin's interviews, they will enhance your enjoyment.