Shopgirl by Steve Martin


Shopgirl is a perfectly nice book but it didn’t make a huge impression. It did make me nostalgic for L.A. Story, Martin’s 1991 movie that explored some of the same themes. It’s also about an old man and young woman and bad choices and, of course, L.A. There are some important differences: L.A. Story is told from the old man’s point of view, while Shopgirl is told from the young woman’s. In L.A. Story, the guy knows he’s looking for his soul mate. He has the self-awareness to know he shouldn’t be messing with someone so young (or someone who names themselves SanDeE*) but our man Ray is kind of deluded. And our girl Mirabelle has more depth – kind of.

My memory of L.A. Story is not perfect. I was maybe 13. Highly impressionable. Looking back through quotes and clips, I realize how many moments I remember whole and out of context. One in particular: Steve Martin saying if he ever woke up as a woman, he’d never leave the house because he’s just play with his breasts all day. I remember that scene made me feel so weird, like, embarrassed, but also curious. What did this mean? Do men like women because we have breasts, or do they like our breasts and we’re just like, a vehicle for them? In hindsight, I think this was the first time I understood what it meant to be seen as a sex object. In Shopgirl, there’s a scene where Ray is trying to figure out whether a square inch of Mirabelle’s chest is bare or covered by a flesh coloured shirt and it becomes an obsession. It’s a very similar scene, not played for laughs, but still showing the absurdity of human behaviour. All this for a particular piece of flesh.

I was surprised by the writing. It’s very realistic and straightforward. Short, factual sentences keep the reader rooted to the present tense, though there’s backstory suggested.

I had some eye-rolling moments. After all, this is just another story about a young girl acting like some kind of empty vessel for an old man going through some sort of mid (or three quarters) life crisis. But it was a good story, and ended in an unexpected way. Just don’t expect me to watch the movie after reading this takedown by Zadie Smith.

Oh, and another thing from L.A. Story – I still do a quick double take in the mirror and take away the first thing I notice sometimes It’s good advice!

Books read: 4


3 responses to “Shopgirl by Steve Martin

  1. I’ve watched L.A. Story, but can’t remember anything about it! I normally would have passed off the young girl/old man relationship in this story as creepy, but it sounds like Steve Martin did a reasonable job of taking it to another level.

  2. Pingback: What do you call half an extravaganza? | Reading in Bed·

  3. Pingback: Booyah, Bookstravaganza! | Reading in Bed·

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