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Shopgirl: A Literary Review

April 18, 2011

“… just remember darling, it is pain that changes our lives.”

For Christmas I received a novella I’ve been dying to read for ages: Shopgirl by Steve Martin. (Yes, that Steve Martin.)

I saw the film starring Claire Danes, Jason Schwartzman (♥), and Steve Martin and I just loved it. The book, though deeper than I thought and much more sexually charged than the film, did not fail to disappoint. In fact, I finished all 130 pages during my travels on Christmas day. Waiting in the airport can be productive!

The books is quietly existential. The entire story is relayed from a third person, omniscent narrator that flows in and out of each character’s perspective with the easy stream of consciousness. There is very little dialogue despite how much happens. At times, months and months of time are showed lapsing through one simple phrase. At other times, every minute in an hour is meticulously described through the flow of thought and mental agony of a character’s deliberation on any given topic.

The characters are flawed and shallow and foolish. They develop in a believeable, slow process that doesn’t spare them any pain or embarrassment, yet the narrator isn’t cruel. Everything manages to come full circle but there are lessons learned, opportunities lost, and relationships both saved and severed.

The language is beautiful, rolling off the page with the surprising wit found only in the highly intellectual.
I was challeneged by this story. I enjoyed it. I found myself questioning my own motives and vices. I highly suggest it for those who are not faint of heart when it comes to blunt honesty or those with an aversion to multi-syllabic words. 🙂

Favorite Excerpts:
“She has learned that her body is precious and it musn’t be offered carelessly ever again, as it holds a direct connection to her heart. She sheathes herself in a protective envelope of caution and learns never to give away more than is being given to her.”

“On the walk home, as they warm up to each other and the night, Mirabelle recites the litany of reasons for her move, leaving out the most important one, and gets down to a final summation:
‘I’m fixing myself.’
‘I’m fixing myself too,’ says Jeremy.
And they know they will forever have something to talk about.”

“It is then Ray’s turn to to experience Mirabelle’s despair, to see its walls and colors. Ony then does he realize what he has done to Mirabelle, how wanting a square inch of her and not all of her has damaged them both, and how he cannot justify his actions except that, well, it was life.”

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