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SHOPGIRL by Steve Martin

SHOPGIRL

A Novella

By Steve Martin

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7868-6658-6
Publisher: Hyperion

Comedian/playwright/essayist Martin (Pure Drivel, 1998, etc.) adds still another string to his bow with this winsome fairy tale of ill-matched love in Beverly Hills.

Martin seems to approach his characters like a surgeon for whom they hold no secrets—not one of those plastic surgeons whose prowess can be seen adorning the minor characters, but an old-fashioned G.P. who still cares about his patients. Mirabelle Buttersfield, who doesn’t care that she’s stuck in a dead-end job (selling gloves at Neiman Marcus) because she’s really an artist, may not know that nobody in the world but herself thinks she’s an artist. But Martin knows. He knows that Ray Porter, the Seattle millionaire who’s wooing Mirabelle, doesn’t intend to make any commitment to her, even though Mirabelle understands the conversation in which he seeks to establish his polite wariness in exactly the opposite terms. And he knows, even if Mirabelle doesn’t, that she’s worth a hundred of the blow-dried floozies like Lisa Cramer, one aisle over in fragrances, who’d love to be draped on Ray’s arm instead. The delicacy of Martin’s perception is so appealing that he succeeds in building a novella out of nothing but nonstop explanations of things the characters don’t understand: why Ray is drawn to such an unprepossessing heroine in the first place, how his unfailing kindness is different from the love she craves, how she retreats periodically into the terrors of clinical depression, why their romance is doomed even though they love each other. Though Martin’s telescope brings each of his heavenly bodies up fascinatingly close, though, it also isolates them each from the others, and there’s something chilly in this little fable.

It’s more reassuring to think of the author not as surgeon or astronomer, but as a concerned parent who gently heads off every answer readers could possibly have about this bedtime story of loneliness faced and conquered before he finally turns out the light.