Mirabelle is the "shopgirl" of the title, a young woman, beautiful in a wallflowerish kind of way, who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus "Selling things that nobody buys anymore..."
Slightly lost but not off-kilter, very shy, Mirabelle charms because of all that she is not: not glamorous, not aggressive, not self-aggrandizing. Still there is something about her that is irresistible.
Mirabelle captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. As they tentatively embark on a relationship, they both struggle to decipher the language of love - with consequences that are both comic and heartbreaking. Filled with the kind of witty, discerning observations that have brought Martin critical success, Shopgirl is a work of disarming tenderness.
Don't miss Steve Martin, Christopher Buckley, and other humorists discussing their craft at the New Yorker Festival.
©2000 Steve Martin, All Rights Reserved; (P)2000 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All Rights Reserved, AUDIOWORKS Is an Imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
"Martin's elegant, bleak, desolatingly sad first novella is in every sense his most serious work to date." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Shopgirl" does have its humorous moments, but it's not classic Martin. Rather, it's a darker brand of reality (if one considers LA to be reality). Martin's first full-length fiction book is as fully developed as the premise is original. Martin updates the age-old love triangle consisting, in his tale, of Mirabelle, a lonely young girl in need of true love; Ray Porter, a well-off older man exploring the ways of women; and Jeremy, a young convenient "knight," although he's hardly the shining-armor type.
The title character is Mirabelle, 28, who moved to California with dreams of a "real" life but instead finds herself dependent on a myriad of anti-depressants and working at Neiman Marcus to pay off college loans. Her void in social interaction parallels her life outside of work. A sex-crazed girl in the perfume department seemingly foils Mirabelle at one point, but isn't given enough description or time to develop.
Martin's prose is bland and overly descriptive. He does not provide enough depth or description in character development but goes well beyond when analyzing day-to-day life and characters' appearances and actions. This style occasionally impedes the flow of the story, but overall it enriches the text and forces the reader to pay more attention to one's unconscious observations throughout the daily routine. He accomplishes this with an omniscient narrator and thus lends a unique angle to the story. One technique, which Martin developed well but failed to use often enough, was his original dialogue. Like the great description of Ray's goal of getting into bed without a commitment, and Mirabelle's stereotypical interpretation of that as commitment and love.
The novel is too short to develop more than the superficial plot of love triangle. Martin is clearly new to the genre and his novella leaves something to be desired. But he has the mark of a talented observer, and I hope he will develop this in another work with a less convenient turn of events.
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