Thursday, February 16, 2006

Shoggoth Girl

As I'm listening to the audiobook version of Shopgirl, I'm unable to shake the conviction that Steve Martin, as a writer resembles no-one else so strongly as H.P. Lovecraft. In no way is the similarity so superficial as what they write about, their characters, or their language. No, it's something oddly meaningful, and significant only in its absence. This is that they both avoid dialogue in such a way that is can only be deliberate.

Unlike Lovecraft, Martin is actually able to write dialogue, but he does not seem to take great pleasure in doing so, avoiding it in the main. Conversations between his characters are less often recounted as described: "And then he told her about his life", instead of him actually telling her (and the reader) about it. The whole story takes place from an almost aggressively third-person viewpoint, the distance of which seems to reflect the distance all the characters feel from each other. Maybe that was his point, I'm not sure, but it seems at times that every scene, every action is narrated from a curiously personally impersonal viewpoint. Here's a sample:

Where his insight comes from as he courts her, even he doesn't know. It might have been that he was ready to grow up, that the knowledge was already in him, like a dormant gene. Whatever it is, she is the perfect recipient of his attention, and he is the perfect recipient of her tenderness.

I don't want to dislike it-- and in fact, I don't dislike it, not really; I just feel, like the characters in the book, vaguely unsatisfied; not displeased, just not fulfilled. I just wish Martin would show me these things, not tell me. I almost feel as if, listening to the audiobook, that Martin is summarizing the actual story, as if I'm getting the Cliff Notes version of the novel he was afraid no-one would publish. But then he will come up with a small, but simple line that is all too representative of life as some have lived it, a line that rings true enough in its banality that it comes as close to touching something meaningful within me that I wish he'd spend more time exploring it and less time writing it:

How is it possible to miss a woman that you kept at a distance so that, when she was gone, you would not miss her?

A movie of this came out a while back; I suspect I might enjoy it more than the novella it's based on.

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