The Show That Smells.


112 pages
ISBN 978-1-55022-855-7
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Matt Hartman

Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.


In 2003 McCormack published his novel Haunted Hillbilly, a mix of what a reviewer called “horror comic imagery, gay porn, real characters, leavening the brew with his own brand of minimalist prose.” Fast-forward five years. The Toronto writer has created a follow-up story, though not, strictly speaking, a sequel, involving identical themes and prose even more sparse than before. McCormack writes a regular column on fashion for the National Post, and his passion for fashion clearly extends to his fiction. While the earlier novel featured Nudie Cohn, the tailor to stars of the Grand Ole Opry, The Show that Smells features the designer Elsa Schiaparelli, fresh from Paris and fresh, as well, from the land of the undead, since Elsa, as well as the narrator (a fashion reporter from the Vogue Vampire), are vampires, gay vampires, in fact. “What do you think Vlad the Impaler impaled?” Elsa asks young, tubercular Jimmie Rodgers, the carnival singer victimized in the story and whose derriere she covets. “Vampires are dandies,” she says. “The lavender dead. They love fashion, fragrance, films. Vampires have private lives like silent movie stars. Hays Code? Ha!”


Jimmie and his wife, Carrie, find themselves trapped in the carnival’s mirror maze as Carrie attempts to bargain with Elsa to create a perfume which will restore her husband’s health. The price the young wife must pay for this is not her soul but her body, her sexual core. Elsa plans to marry her, to make her look and smell beautiful. Smelling, good or bad, is the book’s motif. Then she plans to eat her. Along the way the mirror maze welcomes other players—the Carter family, Lon Chaney (in the role of Schiaparelli’s macabre assistant). Coco Chanel appears as herself, and as Elsa’s enemy.


McCormack joyfully enters into the action as well, both as commentator and participant. Nobody does dialogue quite the way he does dialogue. The book is full of delightful word play: repetition; double entendres; “Caveat emptor” becomes “Cravat emptor”; “Chanel No. 5” is transformed into “Charnel No. 5.”


McCormack lets his imagination run wild. The reader can only try to keep up.


McCormack, Derek., “The Show That Smells.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,