Thursday, February 23, 2006


Steve Martin's Shopgirl is available at the local library on audio CD. The cover says something about a movie. Perhaps they seeded libraries with the audio to promote the movie. You know, generate excitement, and word of mouth advertising. Word of mouth is very powerful. Did you know that Star Wars was released as an audio book before the first movie? I'm not sure that I know this still, but there is evidence that it played out that way.

The book is short. It comes on only four CDs, and of a possible total run length of over five hours, it comes to three hours, thirty seven minutes and nineteen seconds, give or take. By comparison, most of the Tarzan books are eight hours, and the Dune prequels total eighty hours. So this book will only yield a couple days entertainment. However, the book is mercifully short. Not because it is dull, quite the opposite. The humor comes at machine gun speed, every few seconds. The humor is all irony and biting sarcasm. The sarcasm bites all the harder because it seems impossible for the listener to avoid identifying with the worst aspects of each character in turn. Though, if asked if I identify with anyone, I'll deny it. And I've never told a lie in my entire life. If pushed, there's always plausible deniability - how would I know if I identified with it?

The story itself is mostly about character and relationship and sex. Despite graphic descriptions of intimate encounters, it manages to avoid being racy. That might be the sarcasm, or the constant pounding on the theme that these people are all nearly unbelievably pathetic. Only nearly unbelievable because, well after all, one must identify with just these traits.

Mr. Martin reads the book in an entirely competent way. Not a surprise, he wrote it, and he has demonstrated time and again that he is a competent actor. Though humor is everywhere, there are no belly laughs. While listening, I wear a vague smirk which could just as easily be interpreted as a smile or a wince. The whole thing would be preaching, but the humor just manages to prevent it from taking itself too seriously. The narration isn't full of life. The subject is pathetic, which prevents that sort of delivery.

So who would sit there and take it? I would. Show me cartoons lampooning the most sacred bits of my religion, and rather than riot, I'll likely respond, thank you. And who knows if Mr. Martin would take that as the compliment it is intended as, or if he'd be deeply insulted as if wounded in kind. It doesn't matter. I can't hear your response either, and I'm not bothered that I get so few comments on the blog. I don't care if it is because no one reads it, or if it is because no one thinks it is a conversation opener. If you think this is a review, know that I don't care if you like it, just that you know if it is for you. The surprise ending isn't here, so you are still free to read it yourself. In fact, i haven't yet heard the surprise ending, so i haven't accidentally given anything away.

Even I couldn't just sit there and listen to the whole thing at one go. At breaks, I imagine where the story will go, and some of my guesses are reasonably accurate, even when they completely miss the mark. It should be predictable, but fails. In this case, failure is a good thing.

I'm not offended. I take the book personally, but am not offended. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to cause me offense. It is hard to imagine how that might be done. The amazing thing is that it has been done, once or twice.

1 comment:

FreeThinker said...

Audio books existed in the '70s?

Those 8-Tracks must have taken up a lot of space!