Thursday, January 22, 2009

REVIEW: Shopgirl, by Steve Martin

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. Published 2000 by Hyperion.

Click here to buy Shopgirl from your local indie bookstore.

Shopgirl is a slim little slip of a book, a novella really, about a young woman named Mirabelle who works behind the glove counter at an upscale department store as she tries to make her way in the world. A pained introvert, she likes the glove counter because it is quiet, but she manages nonetheless to come to the attention of two men, a young man named Jeremy and an older one named Ray.

Mirabelle doesn't so much choose between the two as she grows up through her relationship with each. The men grow up too- she inspires each of them to be better, in his own way. But the road to personal growth is bumpy and littered with missed connections, crossed paths and misstated intentions, and everyone ends up, as Bart Simpson once said after a failed romance of his own, a little wiser and a little less naive.

I think Shopgirl was a terrific read. I was very impressed with how well Martin understands young women- their fears and insecurities, as well as their joys. Mirabelle is not a glamorous, vivacious big-city girl with fancy clothes and designer shoes. Instead she is talented but lonely, bright but innocent, depressed but also easily delighted- in other words, a typical young twentysomething. Jeremy and Ray also defy stereotype and easy labelling, and I found their interactions and relationships to be believeable and real. I also liked the irony and gentle humor, and the quiet precision of Martin's writing. The narrator's voice sometimes comes off as arch and overly mannered, but I think the overall effect is that of someone watching over Mirabelle, rooting for her and protecting her. In the end she doesn't need protection- she just needs confidence, and once she gets that confidence I felt like the sky was the limit for her. A little more literary than chick-lit and a little more serious than one might expect from a comedian like Martin, I found Shopgirl to be a lovely little treat.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.