Shopgirl is a novella, published in 2000. It was written by Steve Martin, who, in addition to being a writer, is also a successful comedian, banjo player, and actor.
Mirabelle is a shopgirl at Neiman Marcus, in Beverly Hills. She works at the lady’s glove counter, “selling things nobody buys anymore.” She’s a wallflower, with only a couple of slipshod friends. She lives with two cats, and spends her evenings watching PBS mysteries.
She’s sort of dating a freeloading slacker named Jeremy. His one redeeming quality, she feels, is that he likes her. Jeremy likes Mirabelle because she reminds him of Olive Oyl.
Mr. Ray Porter is a millionaire businessman from Seattle, with a second house in Los Angeles. He falls for Mirabelle at first sight. He’s in his 50s. Mirabelle is 28.
Mr. Ray Porter takes Mirabelle out to dinner at a restaurant where even the valet parking is more than she can afford. In contrast to her dates with Jeremy, Mr. Ray Porter pays for everything. When she gets home from dinner, Jeremy calls and wants to come over. Jeremy is 26.
Mirabelle and her dull, lonely life are drifting between two awkward, unfulfilling relationships. She wants to make one of them meaningful.
But, people change.
Shopgirl is like a Morrissey song – and I mean that as a compliment. Sure, the story is sad, but it’s told in playful language. More than anything else, it’s the language, displaying a real love of words, that I loved about this book.
“In the garage are two cars. One is a gray Mercedes, the other a gray Mercedes.”
“Jeremy arrives thirty minutes later and leans against the wall with a slouch so extreme that he appears to have left his skeleton at home.”
“They are nearly indistinguishable as they engage in this rite, except that one man stands in the kitchen of a two-million-dollar house overlooking the city, and the other in a one-room garage apartment that the city overlooked.”
Shopgirl is written in the third person, in present tense. It jumps from one person’s thoughts to another, often in mid-paragraph. It’s a style I found annoying at first, but soon came to enjoy. I especially liked it when Steve Martin used this style to show us multiple characters’ view of the same event.
“I’m traveling too much right now,” he says. In this sentence, he serves notice that he would like to come into town, sleep with her, and leave. Mirabelle believes that he is expressing frustration at having to leave town and that he is trying to cut down on traveling.
The end of the story was surprising, sweet, melancholy, and believable. I liked this book a lot.
Shopgirl was adapted into a movie in 2005. Steve Martin wrote the screenplay and played Mr. Ray Porter. I haven’t seen it.
- A book written by a celebrity