Fiction: “The Corpse Wore Pasties” by Jonny Porkpie

Um, dudes — did you see the title? a), How could I not pick this up and b), how has no one else heard of this book? It’s called The Corpse Wore Pasties.

So, uh, the plot, if you so care: Jonny Porkpie – both the author and the narrator – is a master of ceremonies of burlesque shows in New York City. In fact, he calls himself “The Mayor of Burlesque,” and there’s a whole thing in the first third of the book where he describes the difference between burlesque and stripping. Burlesque is all about wit and humor, whereas stripping is just taking clothes off to music. Burlesque I can get behind. (That’s what she said.)

ANYWAY. Jonny’s MC-ing at this burlesque show with five female stars of burlesque (I swear I am not making these names up): Angelina Blood, a Goth chick; Eva Desire; Jillian Knockers; Brioche a Tete; and Cherries Jubilee. And then a sixth woman comes in: Victoria Vice, a notorious plagiarist. She switches her spot in the lineup with one of the other women so she goes on second, and it turns out that she has managed to plagiarize Angelina’s entire act, down to the fake death by poison on stage.

Only, uh, that fake death? Not so fake. And since Jonny, in his role of MC/stage-manager was the one who handed Victoria the bottle of ‘poison,’ he is the number one suspect. So the rest of the book is his story in trying to find out who killed Victoria and why.

This book is (probably) like burlesque itself: tawdry, witty, humorous, and manages to show just enough to be titillating but not enough to be considered explicit or pornog– midwestern philosophy. Jonny is a reliable narrator, and his way of describing people and incidents is refreshing:

Jillian Knockers is a legend in the annals of bump and grind. First of all, she’s not called “Knockers” for nothing. On the contrary, she’s called “Knockers” for two things. [18]

Brioche’s acts are unlike anything else in the business — they’re more along the lines of performance art, though that’s not exactly the right description either. Because when I say “performance art,” you’re probably thinking about that excruciating thing you had to sit through for five hours when your college roommate decided to “explore the world of live theatrical creation.” [22]

Oh my God — I saw that play! It was about Nazis and robots and then someone ended up gay, right? And the lighting was horrible!

Whether you’d like to admit it or not, Porkpie does have some similarities to a hero of mine: Indiana Jones. Both are witty, both fight for justice; both have easily recognizable hats.

A sudden breeze came up off the water, blowing my porkpie off my head. I made a grab for it and missed. The hat bounced back down the bridge, towards Manhattan, towards my pursuers.

I stopped. I turned around.

I like that hat. [64-65]

I feel that I need to make the distinction: Jonny Porkpie is named for his hat.

Porkpie also has a love of language (and a strong grasp of English literature) based on these two passages:

“You said you were going to strangle them all, starting with Victoria.”

“Well, I didn’t mean it literally, you jackass,” yelled Cherries.

“I’m not sure there’s such a thing as metaphorical strangulation.” [67]

“… Then she walks into that goddamn bar last night. I got out of her life, she could at least have the decency to stay out of mine. But no. She can’t just let it go. She has to keep shoving it — In! My! Face!”

Eva, I had to assume, had some classical theater training — Shakespearean, most likely — that was informing her current performance. How else could one explain that she was (as Hamlet had suggested) suiting the action to her words, the words to her action? [81]

To go back to college one last time:

On the other hand, if anyone would have a working knowledge of obscure Nordic playwrights, it was Brioche. My best course was probably to try to play along. When the need arises, I can shovel it with the best of them. It got me through college. [121]

And I’d like to add my motto: Never underestimate the power of bullshit. It truly did get me through college. I swear, if I ever do get a tattoo, I have a feeling that that phrase is in the top ten of choices.

What … not really struck me as interesting, but a touch that I loved, was that Jonny Porkpie is married. I have to admit: I don’t regularly think of burlesque actresses or strippers, but when I do, I never think that they’re married. Well, Jonny is married to a fellow burlesque performer, and if I were to give awards for the best named characters of the year, this would be no contest: Nasty Canasta. I would like to again refer you to the above paragraph where I said that I swear I am not making any of this up.

Nasty also has a swell sense of humor:

“An excellent disguise,” Nasty continued, “for a man on the run. Very subtle. The call goes out over the police radio: ‘Be on the lookout for a suspect named Jonny Porkpie.’ ‘But how will we recognize him?’ says our hapless officer. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ the radio replies, ‘maybe look for the guy wearing a porkpie hat.'” [171]

As for this as a member of the pulp fiction genre: hell yeah. The wit is sparkling, the women are scantily clad, and while there weren’t guns or too much violence, it’s a gritty world the author describes. This was an excellent romp through the seedy underbelly of the bump and grind world.

Grade for The Corpse Wore Pasties: 3 stars.


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