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Shopgirl: A Novella

A book by Steve Martin

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Martin is superb in writing about the lives of ordinary people

  • Jul 9, 2006
While Steve Martin is acknowledged as a comedy genius and a superb actor, I was surprised to learn of his talents as a writer of stories about average people. Mirabelle is the title character, she works at the glove counter of Neiman Marcus in Los Angeles. Since few people buy gloves anymore, most of her workday is spent trying to make them pass. She grew up in Vermont and suffers from depression and relationship problems. Specifically, she has no significant relationships with members of the opposite sex. Jeremy, the one man in her life, is so shallow that he can barely keep his mind off himself long enough to engage in sexual activity.
Suddenly, a man named Ray Porter comes into her life. He is wealthy, twice her age and is interested in her, but only to a point. He begins taking her on expensive dates and they become lovers. Ray is so rigid that he must constantly remind Mirabelle that they are not a couple. While he is there for her when her depression relapses and supports her financially, there is never any real possibility for the relationship. Martin explains this very well with a set of contrasting "what he thinks" versus "what she thinks" presentations. Ray begins exploring himself, wondering why he can never find somebody, when in fact you can't find what you are trying to avoid. At the end, Mirabelle does find somebody that she may have a future with. Ray meets someone that he falls in love with and is then hurt when she leaves him.
Martin describes the lives of the characters with a matter-of-fact reality that surprised me. The thoughts of the characters, both shallow and deep, are made plain for the reader to see. These are not ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances or extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances. They are ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, yet the writing is so well done that you can't help but care about what happens to them.

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More Shopgirl: A Novella reviews
review by . March 10, 2011
Shopgirl: A Slice of Life Peek Behind the Glove Counter
I recently finished rereading Shopgirl, by Steve Martin (yes, he of King Tut fame). I'd first read it years ago and had found it depressing. This time I felt differently.      I was a little ashamed that I'd once found the heroine, Mirabelle Buttersfield, to be pathetic. But then, upon first meeting her I'd been naive enough to believe that life should fit into neat little boxes of accomplishment and overall well-being to be considered successful. And nothing about …
review by . January 21, 2001
This book was one of the rare few that manages to both digust me and delight me at the same time. This is not a light book by any means. I was expecting it to be, so I sort of got knocked out by it. I alternated between hating the main character (Mirabelle),wishing she'd get herself together and completely sympathizing with her (and her deep depression) in a way I haven't been able to with any other character in any other book. Martin is a great writer, and manages to blend humor with the serious …
review by . November 21, 2000
A little while ago a certain e-mail made the rounds. It contained the fictitious story of a certain man and woman and their totally divergent reactions to the woman's observation that they have been dating exclusively for six months - she immediately blames herself for putting too much pressure on him, he only takes note of the fact that six months is a long time between tune-ups. It says all it needs to about the war between the sexes in some three pages - Shopgirl says more or less the same thing …
About the reviewer
Charles Ashbacher ()
Ranked #76
Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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About this book


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...

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ISBN-10: 0786866586
ISBN-13: 978-0786866588
Author: Steve Martin
Genre: Fiction, Novella
Publisher: Hyperion
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