As it turns out, Steve Martin the writer is not nearly as delightful as Steve Martin the actor. Steve Martin the actor defeated a Mexican overlord with singing. Steve Martin the writer put an entire city in a box using ink and paper.
|Where have you gone, my little buttercup?|
Shopgirl is just a wee little novella, but 130 pages never felt so long. The story: Mirabelle is a sweet girl from Vermont who works behind the Neiman Marcus glove counter in Beverly Hills (because rich people gotta buy their fancy gloves somewhere). She is a little fragile and a lot shy and perpetually in danger of being chewed up and spit out by the big bad city. Even though Mirabelle is 28, this bears all the marks of a coming-of-age story. She is helped in her journey of self-discovery by a boy in a man’s body, Jeremy, and a divorced gentleman of more advanced years and lots o’ money, Ray Porter.
My biggest problem with this book is Steve Martin’s obvious distaste for the entire city of Los Angeles (despite the fact that he lives here).* His so-called masterpiece of wit and wisdom is just one loooooong stereotype, mostly of the negative variety. The people who thrive in the city are portrayed as shallow and devious in comparison with Mirabelle’s small-town innocence. If she is a delicate butterfly struggling to float above the muck, they are the dung beetles reveling in it. I could give you so many examples of these unabashed stereotypes—the WHOLE BOOK is an example—but here are just a few:
“At twenty-six, Jeremy is two years younger than Mirabelle. He grew up in the slacker-based L.A. high school milieu, where aspiration languishes” (p. 7). Oh, HA-HA! Los Angeles public schools produce losers with no hopes or dreams.
“The variety of alteration is vast, except when it comes to breasts. Breasts are made large only—and in the process misshapen—and the incongruity of two bowling balls on an ironing board never seems to bother anyone” (p. 12). It's funny because everyone in L.A. has giant fake boobs and thinks giant fake boobs are THE BEST.
And Mirabelle’s only friends in the whole city, whom she depends on for all non-work activities, are inconsiderate flakes . . . and their names are Loki and Del Rey (because all people in L.A. have silly names).
STEVEN! DO YOU EVER LEAVE BEVERLY HILLS? You really should try it. The burritos are great out here.
Things I liked about this book? (1) That it was written in the present tense and (2) this paragraph about cats:
“Mirabelle has two cats. One is normal, the other is a reclusive kitten who lives under a sofa and rarely comes out. Very rarely. Once a year. This gives Mirabelle the feeling that there is a mysterious stranger living in her apartment whom she never sees but who leaves evidence of his existence by subtly moving small round objects from room to room.” (p. 4)*Disclaimer: I also live in L.A. and metaphorically clutch it to my bosom with great fondness . . . so maybe I'm taking this all too personally. Whatever. It's my blog.
SOURCE: Martin, Steve. (2000). Shopgirl. New York: Hyperion.