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    It's really a story about inadvertent harm done, although I believe each of them is ultimately
    enriched by what happens.
        -Steve Martin

In Steve Martin's critically acclaimed novella, an omniscient narrator describes every thought, feeling, and action of several Angelenos (mostly transplanted, of course) who end up in an unlikely love triangle (quadrangle?).  Because each of them--Mirabelle : the depressive 28 year old artist/Nieman's glove department salesgirl of the title; Jeremy, the slacker to whom she turns when she wants to be held; and Ray, the fiftysomething computer millionaire who romances her--has such different objectives in their relationships, they miscommunicate and develop badly mistaken expectations, hurting and being hurt by each other almost casually, or coincidentally.

Even acknowledging that they are his creations, you always have to distrust narration wherein the author presumes to understand so much about the characters.  There's a certain repellent arrogance at work when a writer asks the reader to accept that he completely understands the inner lives of his varied cast.  The entire 20th Century was dedicated to the disastrously failed proposition that intellectuals and bureaucrats could understand, and guide, human beings and human behavior.  For the same reasons that we now reject that notion, it is necessary to deny the idea that authors and artists are gifted with some special insight into their fellow men, particularly when rendered in the kind of excruciating detail that it is here.

Of course, I should admit that books like this--in which the characters are completely self-absorbed, hyper sensitive to their own feelings and actions and to slights from others, and dwell, at length, upon the minutiae of their lives--make me feel uncomfortable.  Although I'm reasonably confident that such people are naught but a miserable subset of the species, and likely found in their greatest numbers in California, some part of me wonders if the seemingly normal folks around me are engaged in this same kind of obsessive self examination.  I've always found it most comforting to assume that you can't engage in this kind of navel gazing and lead a healthy and productive life at the same time, so the numbers must be pretty small.

There's some mild enjoyment to be had in watching Steve Martin dissect these characters, even if you can't trust his conclusions.  But a phrase like this one :

    ...Lisa is all phenomena and no noumena, and...Mirabelle is all noumena and phenomena.

serves no other purpose than to scream : I'm smart, take me seriously.  And the happy ending to the story not only seems out of place, it also deprives the reader of the expected pleasure of seeing these mostly annoying characters subjected to some awful denouement.  After suffering through their childish psychological games and their emotional constipation, we're entitled to a cathartic bloodletting, aren't we ?

There are some things to recommend the book.  First, there's the natural curiosity about whether Martin can actually write.  He can, though all the accolades for how wonderfully he captures the inner life of a woman are hopefully overblown, and his repeated use of the "f-word", frequently as a punchline, seems almost juvenile.  There are, as one would expect,  some funny lines, though most of the humor is pretty wry.  In addition, where his portrayals of individual characters have the ring of falsehood, his fairly savage portrayal of Los Angeles and its people in general, have the ring of truth.  Finally, the book is an excellent argument for "the time zone rule", which holds that you should never leave the Eastern Time Zone of the United States.  If this is what, and who, awaits you on the West Coast, why would anyone ever go ?


Grade: (C)


See also:

General Literature
Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOK SITE : Shopgirl  By Steve Martin (Hyperion)
    -EXCERPT : from SHOPGIRL by Steve Martin (Contentville)
    -AUDIO EXCERPT : Glove story Steve Martin's first novella, "Shopgirl," revolves around a lonely wallflower glove-counter attendant.  (Read by Steve Martin [10/26/00], Salon)
    -WEBRING : Bomis: Steve Martin Ring (stevemartin)
    -PROFILE : Steve Martin: An Arrow Out of the Head and Into a Shy Heroine's Heart (BRUCE WEBER, Oct. 17, 2000, NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Steve Martin The one-time madcap comic deity has become the distinguished elder statesman of humor. Hey, that's not funny! (Stephen Lemons [03/13/01], Salon)
    -PROFILE : Fool no more :  He doesn't want to play the funnyman anymore, so no rabbitears or arrows through his head, and definitely no stand-up. The jerk's grown up and he's written a book to prove it (Vanessa Thorpe, October 29, 2000, The Observer)
    -PROFILE : Steve Martin, seriously : Comedian, actor, now 'Shopgirl' novelist measures words carefully  (November 2, 2000, Leah Lessard, CNN)
    -PROFILE : Steve Martin Lonely Guy (Kristin Kloberdanz , Book Magazine)
    -PROFILE : Getting Literary with Steve Martin (Hillel Italie, AP)
    -PROFILE : Serious Side : Funnyman Steve Martin displays pieces from his art collection at Bellagio's gallery  (KEN WHITE, Las Vegas REVIEW-JOURNAL)
    -ARCHIVES : Directory | Steve Martin :  A complete listing of Salon articles on Steve Martin
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin (John Lanchester, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl by Steve Martin (Lydia Millet, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW :  of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin ( Sienna Powers, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl (MARTHA LIEBRUM , Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin (Curt Schleier, Ironminds)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin ( Eric Wittmershaus, Flak)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin  (Meghan Day, Digital Collegian--Penn State)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin   (KEVIN SAMPSELL , The Stranger)
    -REVIEW :  of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin  (JOANNA BRICHETTO, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin (Susan Salter Reynolds, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin  (Richard Corliss, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin  (Samara Kalk, Capital Times)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin  (Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW : of Shopgirl  By Steve Martin  (Steve Wilson, Book)
    -REVIEW : of PURE DRIVEL By Steve Martin (Susan Shapiro, NY Times Book Review)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Steve Martin (
    -REVIEW : of Bowfinger : Martin and Murphy team up for a good-natured sendup of the mindless summer blockbuster -- and just barely avoid making one themselves. (Andrew O'Hehir [08/12/99], Salon)