The Show That Smells

Written by Derek McCormack
Review by Suzanne Sprague

Jimmie Rodgers, Carrie Rodgers, Elsa Schiaparelli, Lon Chaney, Coco Chanel, the Carter Family, and the reader in a mirror maze. Carrie trades her soul to Schiaparelli, a vampire fashion designer and perfume creator, in return for a curative scent, Shocking!, to keep the tuberculosis-ridden, country-crooner Jimmie alive. Jimmie insists upon continuing to sing with the traveling carnival despite his illness. Coco and the Carter family are vampire slayers who use Chanel No.5 (sanctified, and therefore, harmful to vampires) and the stereotypical stakes to foil these fangy fiends.

Artfully written, the story, which briefly vaults off into homosexual behavior and child abuse, includes Coco’s and three Carters’ quests to save Carrie from Schiaparelli’s clutch. However, the writing is truly the star. McCormack’s experimental literary stylings may leave the casual reader scratching his or her head, but read a chapter, restart the book, and finish in one sitting. Appreciation of the unique structure that includes repetitive passages, poetic phrasings, and cleverly amusing word choices will grow. Billed as a Tod Browning-inspired production, the book sometimes feels more like poetry than prose.

The 1930s characters and inclusion of the inspiration for Schiaparelli’s circus collection give imaginative nods to historical perspective. Those wishing for a historically accurate novel should look elsewhere. Anyone wishing for a silly, fun, and challenging (yet rewarding) reading experience, using famous names in a fantastic way, should consider this book just the ticket.