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Shopgirl: A Novella Paperback – October 3, 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 524 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 130 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; First edition (October 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786885688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786885688
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (524 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I took a chance with this little book, having never known Steve Martin to write fiction like this, and ended up totally transported. I didn't put it down for 2 hours when I first started reading! It's length is right on target, as he has perfectly exposed her life and thoughts simply, without any extranious over-explaining. Although I don't usually focus on an author's gender or life experiences when I read fiction, it's hard not to remember that it's the very famous Steve Martin writing this book. It does not take away from the book. It only makes it more impressive. He's totally pitch perfect with "Mirabelle". Quite amazing.
I HIGHLY recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Steve Martin's writing, choice of words, descriptions, and inner dialogues just blew me away! What a guy! Within the first three pages, I felt Mirabelle's desolation and loneliness. Just the title: Shopgirl. So old fashioned --no "sales associate" or other fancy title.
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a fan of Steve Martin from the stand-up/SNL days until now when he's begun a career as a "serious" writer. In a sense, he's grown-up as I've grown-up and his current taste for more intellectual humor has matched my own. His play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, is one of the most enjoyable I've seen in awhile and is collected in book form with some shorter plays that are also quite good. Additionally, his pieces in the New Yorker have been wonderful.
This novella does not quite reach the heights of some of his other work, though it is an enjoyable read. It has its wry comic moments but this is a much more straightforward work than I've seen from him before. It is really a character study; mainly of the clinically depressed "shopgirl," Mirabelle but also of a number of other characters--boyfriends Ray & Jeremy, co-worker Lisa, and her parents.
The plot is real and relevant enough, exploring the psyches and relationships of these characters. It suffers from the weakness of many an ambitious novella, however. It introduces intriguing points and doesn't take the time to flesh them out and resolve them. Her father's Vietnam experience and its repercussions, for example, is tossed out and left unexplored. More importantly, however, the story is rushed to its conclusion. The early relationship points are explored and then rushed to their finality. There is a lot more that could have been done with this book.
Perhaps I would have been happier with this piece if I'd read it in a magazine. When I pay money for a book, however, I guess I want more of my money's worth. I'm tired of short works being put in hardcover when they don't qualify. This is a trend in modern fiction that is not to be encouraged.
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Format: Hardcover
If you're looking for another helping of the zany humor for which Steve Martin is best known, don't buy this book. It is most definitley not a knee-slapper and might not even make you laugh out loud. It's just not that kind of a book. What it IS is an elegant, wryly humorous character sketch.
Steve Martin is a talented, observant writer who takes what might in other hands be a banal storyline and crafts it into a marvelous sort of literary still-life. There is no plot to speak of; the beauty of this novella lies in its descriptions and clever turns of phrase.
The book revolves around the largely unexceptional love life of Mirabelle, a shy, depression-prone sales clerk with an artistic flair and difficulty relating to her world. Her paramour, Ray Porter, is an emotionally-challenged older businessman who is unapologetically selfish. Two minor characters provide most of the comic relief: Lisa, a cunning, modern tart who takes Mirabelle's modest success in love as a personal challenge, and Jeremy, a confused Gen X'er who undergoes an improbable transformation. The funniest parts of the book are Martin's description of Lisa's sexual plotting, especially her unusual attention to, shall we say, personal hygiene.
Martin writes with both empathy and humor but never overdoes it and never overreaches. He seems to understand that understatement is one of the most powerful of literary techniques. Some might say that this is a trifle of a book. Maybe so, but it is a delicious morsel all the same.
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