Shopgirl is a fitting title for this book. One of the main characters is Mirabelle, a twenty-something wallflower who spends a large part of her days behind the glove counter at Neiman’s. She is a girl who works in a shop.
The book really captures the boredom that surrounds that type of retail job. She sells things that no one wants to buy. She spends her days arranging the gloves, waiting for customers that rarely appear, and daydreaming until it is time for her to go home. The next day is the same, and so is the next one. You can feel time slow down to a crawl within the walls of Neiman’s as Mirabelle is working her shift.
In many ways, Mirabelle herself is like the gloves she (sometimes) sells. She’s pretty, in a delicate way, and has absolutely no awareness of it. The gloves don’t really fit into today’s fashion anymore, just like Mirabelle doesn’t really fit into typical social situations. She’s uncomfortable and doesn’t quite pick up on social cues that most other people would “get”.
It is these characteristics that I think encourage Mirabelle to stay working in a dead end, boring, retail job instead of trying to make a career out of selling her artwork. She knows exactly what to expect from her job, it is the same each and every day, and she rarely has to talk to anyone.
It is clear to the reader that Mirabelle is “lost”. She doesn’t really know herself and is largely unaware of what is going on around her. She’s going through the motions of looking for a relationship, but knows not what she wants nor how to get it.
Jeremy is another twenty-something, who is slightly older than Mirabelle. Impossibly, he actually is even less self-aware than she is. This is unfortunate, because he and Mirabelle have formed some kind of undefined relationship that neither one is sure about. How could this possibly work out well?
He has an even more dead-end job than Mirabelle does. I think, at the start of the book, his job consists of spray painting logos onto amps. Ironically, Jeremy appears to feel that this makes him an artist, and is completely satisfied with his employment situation. Jeremy is even more lost than Mirabelle is.
One day, a much older man named Ray Porter wanders into Neiman’s, and meets Mirabelle. Without giving you the whole story in this review, the two eventually start seeing each other. Unfortunately, Mirabelle thinks that they have a serious commitment to each other even though Ray has tried his best to make it clear that he is only interested in a casual relationship (that includes sexuality). How could this possibly work out?
As I said, Ray is quite a bit older than both Mirabelle and Jeremy. However, he is only slightly less lost than they are. He is searching for something. He doesn’t know what that something is, but seems to think he can find the answer by casually dating many women at once. He’s got money, has a successful career, wonderful places to live, and yet…. is missing something.
So far, I’ve painted a picture of a book that probably sounds quite depressing. Some of it is a bit of a “downer”. I immediately felt bad for Mirabelle, who hasn’t quite finished growing up, for Jeremy, who doesn’t seem capable of growing up, and for Ray, who should have grown up by now.
Fortunately, there are some things that make this book into something special. I didn’t expect it, but the characters “grow”. I’ll leave you to discover the how and why of that as you read the book. There is something satisfying about watching fictional characters actually reach emotional adulthood when so many people in the real world are either incapable, or unwilling, to do so.
The book is written by Steve Martin. I like him. He’s an actor, a writer, a comedian, and he plays the banjo. Fascinating!
He’s done a great job of capturing the essence of what it would be like to be Mirabelle, a twenty-something, lost, lonely, young woman, in this book. This book (like some of his movies) kind of says “Ok, yeah, life sucks… but, wait, maybe not everything sucks. Maybe it will be ok after all.” There are times when everyone needs to hear that.
I highly recommend this book to those who like stories that put you inside the minds of the characters. If you like books that eventually do end happily, in a non-traditional way, this is a good book to pick up. It’s short, but it has a lot going on inside it.
If you would like to have Steve Martin read his book to you I suggest you pick it up from Audible.com. Steve Martin is the narrator for Shop Girl.