Shopgirl, the audio book, is a wonderful experience with Steve Martin. Normally, an author reading his or her own work (as an audio book or at a reading) is always a little more interesting than when it is done by an actor. The author / reader knows exactly how the book is supposed to sound, how the characters are supposed to speak, where the pauses were when the book was being written. When the author and the reader are Steve Martin the auditory experience is rewarding. When the novel is Shopgirl the entire experience is simply amazing.
From the very first sentences of Shopgirl you know you are in very competent hands. This is not some novel written by some famous star that got published because everybody knew it was not particularly good but would sell and be profitable. Steve Martin can write as well as what we all consider "real writers" and well enough to make you forget he once played the ukulele. I knew that already, having seen his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile a few years back, but a play and a novel are not at all the same thing. Dialogue is easy to write. Descriptions somewhat harder. Characters and character descriptions even harder. All three together; priceless. Shopgirl contains so many great lines, wonderful and succinct descriptions, those little golden moments where the sentence is absolutely perfect and not only economical but golden -unlike, say, these sentences here-that hearing the audio book only makes you want to read the book as Martin reads it to you, pause the CD so you can read the sentence a couple more times because it sounds so good, and then get back to having Steve Martin read his book for you.
Shopgirl is the story of Mirabelle, a young twenty-eight year old artist who works at Neimans "selling things that nobody buys anymore": ladies evening gloves. She is as quaint, rare, and fragile as the gloves she sells. She is also a wounded soul surviving on antidepressants that more or less work. She is an acutely self-aware person who has no idea how the world sees her or how life works.
The men in Mirabelle's life are not much stronger. Mr. Ray Porter may be a successful businessman / older man who becomes fascinated by Mirabelle but he has no understanding of what a woman is and even less of what makes his shopgirl tick. Jeremy, the young man in her life is basically too immature and self-centered to really come close to understanding here. Martin, as deus ex machina, has Jeremy go on a road trip while the romance, in Mirabelle's mind, and the affair, in Ray Porter's mind, blossoms. The interest in Shopgirl is reading, or in the case of the audio book, listening to the encounter of two very different but also similarly wounded people.
Add to this mix Lisa, a young woman who works at Nieman's with Mirabelle and feels the latter does not deserve Mr. Ray Porter while someone with her body and bedroom skills does, and you definitely get some tension added into the mix. What happens to her best laid plans against mouse for man is very funny.
The ending of Shopgirl respects both Steve Martin's talent for writing and his characters' personalities. This is a great book and an excellent audiobook experience.
A couple of things that bugged this reviewer: For some reason, the pitch in Steve Martin's voice changes dramatically halfway through CD 3. This is soon fixed but still a little jarring. The movie tie-in version of this audiobook is a packaging disaster. I have no problem with having the CDs in a fold-out cardboard case (as is the case for Lewis Black's Nothing's Sacred for example) I have a problem when this fold out cardboard case is set on a flimsy plastic tray like cookies come from in cookie boxes. The fact that the cardboard box for this flimsy plastic case is oversize compared to the majority of audio books that come in a jewel case and that it does not close in any way but is basically a hollow shell makes it basically impossible to store along with your other audiobooks. If like me, you despise flimsy cookie tray packaging, you are stuck having to repackage this great book in a way that does it more justice yet makes it look homemade.