Novel and Film Review of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl

Even though it’s got Claire Danes in it, skip the movie and read the book instead.

I saw the film version of Shopgirl first before I found a copy at Half-Price Books, however, it was no less entertaining knowing the ending.

Mirabelle is the shop girl in question. She is under 25 years old and has a cushy yet stultifying job at Neiman Marcus selling fancy evening gloves. Who even knew such a department existed beyond the year 1965, right? Well, the Fancy Glove Department does exist despite the fact nobody buys gossamer high tea-drinking gloves anymore and she works there. Mirabelle is just another talented person who went to art school and then later finds out that there’s zero opportunity in the art world for a non-connected, non-famous, shy young woman for Vermont. Mirabelle’s life isn’t exciting, though she has no idea how to change it. She subconsciously wishes to fall in love while she battles severe depression with an array of new tricyclic drugs. Mirabelle has a disastrous few dates with a slacker loser named Jeremy. To assuage her terrible loneliness and twenty-something horniness, she makes the mistake of sleeping with him, even though he’s a boob that makes her pay for 1/2 their dates.

Paying 1/2 for dates is near impossible in Mirabelle’s highly-indebted state. She has tens of thousands of dollars in college debt and her job at Neiman’s isn’t exactly lucrative. In stark contrast is the L.A. art scene that Mirabelle samples when she goes out with her friends on gallery night and the segment of people rich enough to shop at Neiman Marcus. Steve Martin’s observations on the Wives of Important Men were the first big factor that made Shopgirl the novel far better than Shopgirl the movie. For instance, this line: Without spending, there would be thirty to sixty empty hours per week, to be filled with what? and this one: Along with the desire to spend comes a desire to control what is coming back at them from the mirror. Noses are bobbed into a shape that nature never knew, hair is whipped with air and colored into a metallic tinted meringue, and faces are pulled into death masks. No kidding, right?

She should have stayed home with her cats.

One day at work, an older gentleman named Ray Porter comes into Mirabelle’s department and buys a pair of gloves. A few days later, he sends her the pair of gloves to her in the mail along with a note asking her out to dinner. Since this is the most exciting thing that has happened to Mirabelle in a very long time, she says yes and ignores Jeremy’s entreaties to see her again.

In the interim, we meet a character named Lisa who works in the cosmetic department of Neiman Marcus. Lisa is in her early 30s and hell-bent upon gaining social status via the men she seduces; she even has the breast implants to prove it. She prides herself on being a blow job queen. We gain glimpses into Lisa’s bizarre insecurities and warped self-image as she and Mirabelle run into each other at an artist’s party. Lisa’s character development becomes another reason why the novel is superior to the film. At thirty-two, Lisa does not know about forty, and she is unprepared for the time when she will actually have to know something in order to have people listen to her. That little quip had special significance for me as I watch a bunch of my female contemporaries in Chernobyl-like meltdowns as forty approaches on swift hooves. Much later in the book, Lisa, whose main goal is to join the ranks of the Wives of Important Men, gets her comeuppance in a very funny turn of fate.

Back to Mirabelle and Ray Porter, who hit it off immediately after having dinner at an expensive restaurant. Luckily, Mirabelle does not have to pay this time. She comes away from the date enchanted, as does Ray. Ray is revealed as extremely lonely (possibly even mores than Mirabelle) with an exquisitely organized life. Ray is kind and generous, however, he is an emotional adolescent. He is stoic to the degree that he can barely identify his own feelings, let alone the feelings of women he gets involved with.

Ray keeps Mirabelle at arm’s length after they sleep together, which is very sad because “we” the readers see clearly that he falls in love with her even before they sleep together. Mirabelle falls as well. Much to her despair, Ray is unable to commit to Mirabelle exclusively at makes it perfectly clear even after they become very close.

The rest I won’t give away, except for a bit about Jeremy. Jeremy is a total douche character in the film but not so in the book. Jeremy evolves in the book in a way that the film utterly failed to capture. I hated Jeremy at the end of the film Shopgirl but at the end of the novel Shopgirl, I had a completely different opinion of him. I also felt that Steve Martin probably should not have played the role of Ray Porter in the film Shopgirl. Steve is soft and fatherly but actually, I don’t necessarily see him as Ray Porter and I think most people would agree. Ray is a bit harder at the edges, geekier for certain, whereas Steve just comes off as sweet and kindly.

Shopgirl the novel…highly recommended!!

One thought on “Novel and Film Review of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl

  1. Thanks for the review, Kimberly. I’ve had this cued up on the DVR for a couple of weeks now – I really must get back to the library someday! GS

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