I’ve had Derek McCormack’s “The Show that Smells” sitting on my desk for like a year, and have thought abt reading it on numerous occasions, but for whatever reason, have chosen other things instead, even tho I knew it would only take like two seconds to read… which it did, but goddam if those weren’t two of the most delightful two seconds of my reading life.
I was expecting this book to be smart, delicious and hilarious camp (which it was), but, not having read any McCormack, I did not realize it would be such a tour de force re: language.
McCormack doles out assonance, consonance, alliteration and (literate) puns like word candy… words as cotton candy, cotton candy at a carnival (carnivals are big in this book). Almost like a pop art Christian Bok. Bok meets Gaga? That might be cheapening. But McCormack might like it cheap.
I dunno know why I just shouted “harlots.” Felt like it.
This short novel presents the epic feud between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli (the lesser-known Schiaparelli collaborated w/ Dali & Cocteau, and the names of her most famous designs read like a tour through Gaga’s closet: lobster dress, tears dress, skeleton dress, shoe hat… and the “tears dress” actually looks a shit ton like one of Kate Durbin’s reading outfits. The opposition btwn Schiaparelli and Chanel, as I understand it, is the opposition btwn unfunctional avant garde disruption and functionalist unobtrusive elegance… like Alexander McQueen vs. Tom Ford) as an old-fashioned film, a film abt Chanel and Schiaparelli’s literal battle for the souls of an archetypal hetero American couple (the male of which couple is a country western crooner), who are a bit Brad and Janetish in their ho-hum-ness (Asshole! Slut!), and who are already appropriately beset by disease (appropriate b/c heteronormativity is clearly diseased, um, hi) — the dude’s got TB.
This refreshingly stigmaphile novel celebrates the aesthetic potential of shit, death, blood (everything vampiric that leaches life from hetero respectability, from capitalist production and productive reproduction) and the freakish — specifically circus freaks. Schiaparelli’s character, who is clearly the one we root for, is a vampire who clothes women fabulously… then eats them!
Here she presents her grand vision for both a carnival-inspired clothing line, and a vampire carnival:
“Freak fashion. Geek chich. It inspired my new haute couture collection for humans–the Carnival Collection! Soon Schiaparelli clients will dress like the Half-Man, Half-Woman and the Mule-Faced Lady. Ostrich girls in ostrich plumes. Lobster ladies in lobster gowns.
It’s like I always say: Clothes make the inhuman.”
“When all the world’s well-dressed women are dressed and perfumed like freaks…I will make them freaks–in a carnival, a vampire carnival–a carnival of fashion and death!” She changes. Fangs flower. Pupils as pink paillettes. “And freaks are only part of the fun!
“Men will be rides!
“Women will be games.
“Children will be snacks.”
Schiaparelli’s face is an effect.
…This last sentence a nod to the text’s presentation as a film that also opens itself to multiple readings. And, oh! Did I mention this book’s got SEQUINS!? Sequins run through Schiaparelli’s veins. Sequins manifest on the page as a series of open parentheses like scales. Blood-soaked sequins are bolded!
…And that’s not McCormack’s only wicked cool nod to text’s materiality. The entire novel takes place inside a mirror maze, the effect of which McCormack repeatedly renders in scene-orienting (and disorienting) repetitions of characters’ names representative of their repeated reflections in the mirrors’ mazes:
Carrie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers.
Carrie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers. Carrie Rodgers.
Jimmie Rodgers. Carrie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers. Carrie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers. Carrie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers. Carrie Rogers.
So much love. So much fun. And I haven’t even mentioned the Carter Family’s appearance as a group of Christ-loving vampire hunters. Or perfume’s role as holy water. Or McCormack’s own presence in the text as a reporter for Vampire Vogue. And — SPOILER ALERT — the promise he will carry out the vanguished Schiaparelli’s vision.
To close, a few images of the real-life Schiaparelli’s creations:
And here is a page with some more photos, as well as some additional biographical info.