Reading like a cross between a song, a bizarre film script, and a (dirty) children's story, Derek McCormack's The Show that Smells could easily be off-putting—that is, if it weren't for his clever and pithy wordplay. Chirpy, repetitious, and minimalistic, The Show is a slow-burning captivator about carnivals, high fashion, and Van Helsing-ing hillbillies.
Entirely set in a carnival's dizzying hall of mirrors, the book describes country music crooner Jimmie Rodgers dying of tuberculosis; the only thing keeping him alive is sniffing Coco Chanel's Chanel No. 5 perfume. Jimmie's wife Carrie makes a desperate plea to the evil vampire designer Elsa Schiaparelli: Carrie's soul in exchange for a perfume that will save Jimmie from death. Then there's vampire slayers, carnival freaks, and appearances by the Carter Family, Lon Chaney, and the author himself. To top off the bizarrity: The Show is Guy Maddin-approved!
Most sections open with the refrain of the mirrors echoing back and forth who is in the maze. "Carrie Rodgers. V. Carrie Rodgers. V.... Carrie Rodgers and a bat and me in a Mirror Maze. The bat becomes Schiaparelli. Her blouse is batwinged. Becoming!" says the (invisible-in-mirrors) vampire narrator. McCormack's playful wordage, freak-show sensibilities, and droll topography make for a charming grammar-geek experience, like doing the word jumble with the cast of Freaks.