Daniel's Reviews > Shopgirl: A Novella

Shopgirl by Steve Martin
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Apr 11, 2008

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bookshelves: first-edition, signed-edition, 2008
Read in April, 2008

There are a handful of writers I've come across who've successfully broken the "show, don't tell" rule every writer is taught. Kurt Vonnegut was one, and Steve Martin is another. It'd be hard to imagine Vonnegut in "Breakfast of Champions," for example, giving the reader all the information he wants to convey about Kilgore Trout, Dwayne Hoover and Eliot Rosewater through action and dialogue alone. Similarly, Martin in "Shopgirl," which is almost completely lacking in dialogue, spends most of the novella telling us about Ray Porter, Mirabelle and Jeremy, almost never showing us who they are through their words or actions. Yet, somehow, the book works just fine. In fact, it works better than the film version, which, being a film, was forced to turn much of the telling into showing.

One of the book's few failings, though, lies in some of its descriptions of Los Angeles. Martin is fine when sticking to the Los Angeles he knows -- art galleries and celebrity shopping trips, for example -- but when he goes too far afield, his presumably sheltered experience (being a wealthy and successful celebrity) shows. He says, for example, that the only restaurant in Los Angeles open on Thanksgiving Day is a diner in downtown L.A. What restaurant could he be referring to? The Pantry? I assure Mr. Martin that many, many L.A. restaurants are open on Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, who in the 1970s would have predicted that the wild and crazy guy with the fake arrow through his head from "Saturday Night Live" would someday write such a direct, unflinching novel about contemporary male-female sexual relationships?
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-2 of 2) </span> <span class="smallText">(2 new)</span>

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message 1: by Yulia (new)

Yulia Great review. It's true that, though so much is told to us, it never comes off as forced, well, except for a couple of glaring exceptions, but I forgive him that.


message 2: by Daniel (last edited Apr 15, 2008 07:29AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Daniel It's certainly easier to forgive him that than "Father of the Bride II."


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