Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Steve Martin, on comedy, loneliness and women

I read his biography first, so I guess that makes it okay.

Steve Martin’s autobiography, “Born Standing Up” is a must-read for anybody who wants to perform, containing lessons that every artist should expose themselves to, even if they don’t entirely sink in.

Steve’s jokes aren’t funny anymore, and that makes it work better. You feel what a terrible uphill climb it was, to be recognized for his comedy, to refine his act in a thousand brutal nightclubs.

Steve can teach you about courage and persistence. You get the impression that Steve was not meant to be funny. He was born to be insanely quirky smart, and comedy was the only outlet he could think of.

I don’t think Steve Martin was born to be funny. I think Steve Martin was born to write books, and that comedy was a 40-year tangent. He was born to write books like “Shopgirl” — a tender, neatly-constructed novella that reads like a love letter to every young woman in the world.

I’ve never been a young girl, and neither has Steve Martin, but his portrayal of a lonely young woman named Mirabelle has a wonderful poignancy and ring of truth to it. I’ll confess that although I’ve written extensively on the topic of male loneliness, I don’t know much about the female equivalent.

Female loneliness feels different, the way he writes it. Softer somehow. While men tend to burn out, lash out and melt down, women just kind of…suffer. Quietly, delicately, until loneliness makes them do something stupid. Usually that “something stupid” is a man.

I’ve barely cracked the cover on this book, barely stepped in to Mirabelle’s world, but Martin has already defied my expectations and taught me something. We all know that young women who enter into relationships with older men are signing up for a kind of devil’s bargain, but Martin reveals that entering into a relationship with a young man is a devil’s bargain, too.

Each case involves giving up something, risking and sacrificing in hopes that emotional needs get met, praying that boys can put aside their natural selfishness and blindness, just long enough to be real and human, if only for a couple hours at a time.

“Shopgirl” is a wonderful book — using intelligence and insight to tell us about ourselves and explore the fundamental nature of romance and compromise. It’s a mature book, looking back on youth with adult eyes, analyzing things that most people just live.

Maybe some people would be happier not analyzing the mechanics of loneliness and youth, but so far, it’s been worth the trip.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

October 8, 2008 at 06:18

Posted in Books

2 Responses

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  1. “Female loneliness feels different, the way he writes it. Softer somehow. While men tend to burn out, lash out and melt down, women just kind of…suffer. Quietly, delicately, until loneliness makes them do something stupid. Usually that “something stupid” is a man.”

    well, remember, this is a man writing it, and romanticizing it. some women suffer softly but some others are more like the crazed bridget joneses of the world…

    cynthia

    October 9, 2008 at 05:50

  2. I’m sure you’re right.

    Martin’s prose felt like a picture of a particular woman in his life, maybe even a very young woman, but it’s always dangerous to assume a novel is based on real life.

    michaelduff

    October 9, 2008 at 11:26


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