Posts Tagged ‘Shopgirl’

Book Review by Roy E. Perry: “Shopgirl: A Novella” by Steve Martin

July 15, 2015


Editor’s Note: Roy E. Perry reviewed books for “The Tennessean” and “Nashville Banner” for more than thirty years. “Underground Nashville” is always proud to post Mr. Perry’s latest book review. 


Steve Martin’s Shopgirl: A Novella (2000) is an interesting psychological study of four characters. (CAUTION: The risqué nature of this work may offend some readers. The author peppers its pages with “the f-word”; when released as a film in 2005, it received an R rating.)

Mirabelle goes into a Beverly Hills yogurt shop and hears a woman conversing on a cell phone. Concerned about someone who is ill, the woman says to the person on the other end of the line, “Just remember, darling, it is pain that changes our lives.” (Hold this thought in mind; before story’s end, we shall meet it again.)

The protagonist, Mirabelle Buttersfield, 28—the shopgirl of the title—works in the fourth-floor glove department of a Nieman Marcus store in Los Angeles. Hers is a boring job “selling things that nobody buys anymore.”

Shy and terribly lonely, Mirabelle is attractive, it’s just that she is never the first or second girl chosen. She takes Serzone (and, later, Celexa) to control her immobilizing depression. Separated from suicidal thoughts by only a thin veneer, she struggles to keep that veneer from cracking. Mirabelle desperately needs someone to talk to, to hold her close, to affirm and appreciate her inner beauty.

Lisa Spencer, a flirtatious tart who seduces and captures men simply for the delight of ditching them, also works at Nieman’s, and is Mirabelle’s exact inverse. Steve Martin writes:

“If Immanuel Kant had stumbled across the two women [whom we now see having lunch at the Time Clock Café], he would have quickly discerned that Lisa is all phenomena and no noumena, and that Mirabelle is all noumena and no phenomena.” [In Kant’s philosophy, a phenomenon is a thing as it appears to and is constructed by the mind, as distinguished from a noumenon, or thing-in-itself.] In other words, Lisa is all surface; Mirabelle has depth.

Enter two men with whom Mirabelle develops romantic and erotic involvements: Jeremy, 26, and Ray Porter, a millionaire twice her age. The chronicle of these relationships is an insightful psychological study of how men and women—having divergent expectations—consistently misread and misunderstand one another.

Although the 130-page novella contains some clever quips and humorous moments, it is basically a serious work, rather than the slapstick gag one might expect from Mr. Martin. One pulls for Mirabelle, hoping she will overcome her problems and mistakes, and find the right road out of her slough of despondency.

Although people know Steve Martin as a zany, stand-up comedian—a “wild and crazy guy”—most do not know he majored in philosophy at California State University, studying, among other things, metaphysics, ethics, and logic. At various places in this novella, his penchant for the philosophical peeps through.

In fact, Martin may have picked up a key idea from Nietzsche, who wrote: “Only suffering leads to knowledge. Mighty pain is the last liberator of the spirit; she alone forces us to descend into our ultimate depths. I know life better because I have so often been at the point of losing it.”

Or, as the character in Shopgirl puts it: “Just remember, darling, it is pain that changes our lives.”

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising/marketing/public relations writer. ************

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as beautiful, haunting, powerful—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit:


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Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering thoughts from the shadows of a great American city. Dave Carew