Book Review: The Show That Smells

“I kneel on the stage. Unbuckle his belt. Tug down his trousers. I lick his underpants like it’s cotton I crave. Underpants drop. I pull on his penis. It bloats like a corpse. It tastes like pennies. Slit big as a kewpie’s coin slot.” Reading Derek McCormack’s new novel is like listening to Horatio Alger Jr. being read aloud by a dead dominatrix stabbing her tongue with a sewing needle in between page turns. McCormack plays himself in the novel, sort of. He’s a reporter named Derek McCormack who writes for Vampire Vogue. When asked about the magazine, the reporter remarks, “We wear clothes…We’re not werewolves.” Even the copy reads like an experimental film of the Ed Wood variety. Billed as “the most SHOCKING story ever shown on the silver screen!” The Show That Smells is the pink and black love story of a dying country singer Jimmie and his loving wife Carrie who will do just about anything to save her husband, including selling her soul to a devil designer named Elsa. Sound familiar? That being said, it’s clear that the canoe and twig-stuffed CanLit canon has forced McCormack into his own unique trajectory, in voice, form, style and intent. It’s a novel that rarely comes up for air, as each page is reflective, loquacious and insane. The novel’s small talk is louder and more abrasive than a thousand jam-eating, shawl-eating poets from the prairies as the reader is wrapped in the sick and swelling world of haute couture and all its stinking vampiric descent. The bawdy world of fashion is teeming with greed, while the designers are shipping out desire and tossing it on the runway for judgment and praise in rapid, ridiculous, fury. Despite all the frivolity, it can be declared that thought went into this work and like the fashion industry itself, the fit is very controlled, tight and colourful. “Fake gorillas soak their suits in gasoline, then soak them in sun.” The novel is as beautiful as it is insane. “Garlic?” Schiaparelli says, slinking towards her. Sara wears a corsage of wolfsbane. A.P. carries a sage smudge stick. It shakes like a conductor’s baton. “I’m not Count Dracula, darlings –spices and stinkweed won’t frighten me off!”‘ While reading the novel, I wondered if the recent Montreal stage adaptation of McCormack’s The Haunted Hillbilly influenced the author in any way. The brave dialogue is playful while the stage propped presence of the carnival mirrors embellishes the vanity and insecurity of perception. Fittingly, mirrors are used throughout the book to move characters through chaos and conflict and mass reflection. It’s just one of several tricks this showstopper guarantees upon impact. A perfect book for your next drunken dinner soirée, stuffy office party or undead fashion orgy. (Nathaniel G. Moore)

by Derek McCormack, ECW Press, $19.95, 120 pgs, 2120 Queen Street East Suite 200, Toronto, ON M4E 1E2