People were surprised when I told them I was reading Shopgirl by Steve Martin. “By Steve Martin?” they ask and yes, Steve Martin. The same Steve Martin that gave us… Cheaper by the Dozen and Pink Panther!
I honestly didn’t expect much from this novella so I was somewhat amused at Martin’s proficiency and the elegance and freshness of his prose. His description about love and relationships is a delightful mixture of quaint and caustic:
Jeremy does have one outstanding quality. He likes her. And this quality in a person makes them infinitely interesting to the person who is being liked.
Shopgirl is essentially chick-lit (albeit relatively well-written). It contains all the hallmarks of an entertaining chick literature – we follow the life of Mirabelle, awkward and flawed Mirabelle, clinically depressed Mirabelle, and her despondent foray into love and life.
Mirabelle is not affected by a man’s failures to approach her, as her own self-depreciating attitude never allows the idea that he would in the first place.
The story plods but each Serzone-powered day that Mirabelle struggles with is neatly stacked and elegantly intertwined with those of her lovers. I liked this book, it is the best (somewhat) romantic book I’ve read this year but it isn’t without limitations.
Mirabelle, Ray and Jeremy were written more as literary constructs than as blood-and-flesh characters and I understand how that may turn people off. However, for me, character development in Shopgirl is second to Martin’s contemplations on desire, romantic need and arrested development in different stages of life. The characters were written in an obviously analytical fashion – I didn’t care about anyone, and I felt like I really wasn’t meant to. Mirabelle’s interactions are mere backdrops to show us how relationships can be difficult and beautiful, sometimes, both at the same time.
Shopgirl was weirdly sad and self-affirming and it feels like Lost in Translation but in written form. There was no theatrical bang at any point, but life often doesn’t get any more cosmic as finally knowing what you like and going after it in the end.
* Shopgirl is the first of three books I read this month chronicling lives of mad women (or women with mental health issues). To other two are The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Reviews to follow.