When Steve Martin hosts the 72nd Academy Awards on March 25, millions of viewers will see the brilliant comic they know and adore. What many fans may not know is that the zany actor also has surprising talents as an author.

Movie-goers have come to expect a vast emotional range from Martin due to his many film roles. Add to this his two hilarious books, Pure Drivel and Cruel Shoes; several screenplays; the off-Broadway hit Picasso at the Lapin Agile; regular contributions to The New Yorker and The New York Times, and his range looks all the more impressive. Martin has an astonishingly different kind of treat in store for his fans with Shopgirl, his recent novella. Readers expecting zany riffs and hilariously skewed observations will be shocked to find his first work of fiction a serious, intimate, rather dark comedy of manners. Mirabelle, the shopgirl who works in the glove department at Neiman Marcus, is a ripening plum of a woman trying to thrive where there is no market for her kind (a mirabelle is a superb French plum). Depression and a natural shyness make socializing difficult, and her intelligence, warmth and beauty are gifts others do not give the time or effort to discover. Her desperate loneliness drives her into the uncertain arms of Jeremy, an inexperienced young boy she meets in a laundromat and plans to seduce solely for the chance of an "afterglow" cuddle. Then appears millionaire Ray Porter, a suitor at the opposite end of the socio-economic and age spectrums, and Mirabelle embarks on her first bona fide adult love affair.

No longer married, Ray begins his dalliance with the intoxicating Mirabelle without the distraction of commitment or obligation. Mirabelle, Ray and even poor Jeremy eventually discover, in their own time and way, that we cannot truly love others when we don't know ourselves. Laugh-out-loud humorous Shopgirl is not, although there are comic touches, especially those involving Mirabelle's rival, a co-worker whose single desire is to be desired by all men. A sweet, courageous exploration of a young woman's search for selfhood and love, Shopgirl promises to leave readers eager for the next literary surprise from Steve Martin.

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