Thursday, December 10, 2009 By: Suzanne

Shopgirl: Audio

From the cover:
Mirabelle is the "shopgirl" of the title, a young woman, beautiful in a wallflowerish kind of way who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus "selling things that nobody buys anymore...." Mirabelle captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age.

I'll stop there because that's as far as I got. I know, sad, especially since this audio. But that may be WHY I couldn't go on. This book is just awful. There's sugar coating it. As an actor Steve Martin is genius. As a writer, he's horrible. And he narrates it too. You'd think, cool! I love Steve Martin, I'm glad he's narrating his own book! Nope. He tells it in the most monotone, I'm bored out of my mind, voice. Maybe if I didn't have to listen to it told as if he was just tired of life I would have enjoyed the quirky-ness of the characters. Maybe one day I'll try to read it. Maybe not.

First of all I listened to about an hour and a half of this story, which if I was reading would be a significant amount of pages. In all that time, he did not tell the story straight out. It was told in this backwards "that's what happened then" style with excessive descriptions of EVERYTHING. It's like listening to someone describe what happened to them last week, in excruciating detail (and a monotone voice). It's much more fun and exciting to experience what happened with them. Why not tell the story as it's happening to Mirabelle, not as if it already happened? I'll give an example (try to imagine the monotone voice):

Depending on the time of year, Mirabelle's drive home offers either the sunny evening light of summer or early darkness and halogen headlights of winter in Pacific Standard Time. She traverses Beverly Boulevard, the chameleon street with elegant furniture stores and restaurants on one end and Vietnamese shops selling mysterious packaged roots on the other. This street dwindles in property value and ends at her second story apartment in Silver Lake, an artist community that is always bordering on being dangerous but never quite succeeding. Some evenings, if the timing is right, she can climb the outdoor stairs to her walk-up and catch LA's most beautiful sight: Pacific sunset accumulating over the spread of lights that flows from her front door stoop to the sea.

Yeah, the whole first hour and half (and as far as I know, the rest of the book) is like this. Not once do we get to experience things AS Mirabelle is experiencing them, but later as if she is thinking about them while stands at the most boring job in the world, the glove counter in Neiman Marcus, doing absolutely nothing for 8 hours every day of her life. It would be much more interesting to see the beautiful sunset as she she's it, not to tell us what she sees on some evenings. And do we really need such colorful adjectives for EVERYTHING? They lose all meaning when they're used so freely like that. Why did I bold type so many words? These are the ones that most annoyed me because it seems as if he is trying to write cleverly. Trying to be clever is not clever. It's dull.

Martin then goes on to describe Mirabelle for an excruciating 4 minutes. I am not kidding: 4 MINUTES. I have it on audio. I have proof. Then we hear of some boring phantom cat that she never sees but leaves food out for anyway. Then, for another 4 MINUTES (I have proof) he describes Jeremy, the first man Mirabelle "dates." To be fair this description includes a description of their first 3 "dates" (one of which Jeremy believes to be a high five in the laundry-mat). I can't really say that this entire 4 minutes is not devoted to describing Jeremy because even the description of the dates is all wrapped up in the description of him. Why not take the time to tell those dates as they happen in real time, instead of the past tense - this happened last week - style.

The only times there is real dialogue in book, we don't even get to hear the dialogue WARNING:SPOILERS (if it can be called that). It is after they have sex (which is boring-ly described and a complete disaster) and Jeremy, who almost never talks, goes off on some kind of monologue. Actually getting out of bed to deliver it to her. Here's how it goes (again imagine monotone):

Then a terrible thing happens...Jeremy stands at the foot of the bed and begins to talk, more than talk: orate. And worse, he talks in a way that requires Mirabelle to respond with a periodic "uh-huhs." What he talks about is a range of topics loosely categorized under the heading "Jeremy." He talks about Jeremy's hopes and dreams, his likes and dislikes, and, unfortunately, a lot about amplifiers...This is the topic that requires most of the "uh-huhs."

Ok, seriously? This could have been hilarious. But it was boring. Don't tell it to me like that! Let Jeremy actually talk and write Mirabelle's reactions as they come! It would be funny to see the contrast of Jeremy here and Jeremy before as well as Mirabelle's shock at it. But no. We're told again in the past tense and it's just glossed over as if it's not really all that important and at this point I'm 34 minutes into the story and getting seriously frustrated. When's the damn story going to actually start??!!

Soon I hear what I think are magic words: "That night the voice does not come and she quietly folds herself up and leaves the bar. The voice is to come on Tuesday." YAYYYY Something exciting is about to happen (40 minutes into the story). So, do I get the exciting thing that happens on Tuesday? No. The very next thing I hear is "Monday." I almost turned the damn thing off there. You mean something interesting is going to happen on Tuesday and you're going to make me listen to Monday first. You've got to be kidding me. You know when Tuesday actually comes? 12 minutes later and let me tell you, Tuesday was not worth waiting for. I shut off the story and listened to NPR the rest of the way home.


Anonymous said...

Bummer! I loved this book. I didn't listen to it on audio though.

Tonya said...

You know, I looked around for other reviews of the book after I wrote this and everyone seems to have loved it. Maybe I'm just weird or maybe it just doesn't translate to audio. However, I know that I have been irritated by books in the past that tell the story in that backwards "oh we did that" way (I know there has to be a term for this style but I don't know what it is) instead of just telling it as it happens, so maybe I still would have hated the book!

Anonymous said...

I listenedto this on audio too and did think it wasa bit boring. The movie was less so, but not cup of tea (which I need to go get right now :))

Tonya said...

I thought it might have been the difference between reading and the audio that made it not so enjoyable for me. I'm glad I'm not the only one in the world who didn't like it!