Strippers Literature

Russell Smith's Girl Crazy


The new Canadian Notes and Queries is out and anyone interested keeping abreast of contemporary literarture should read it. As I’ve said more than once, it is my favourite literary magazine, and one I’m honoured to write for. The latest issue has a long essay I wrote about Russell Smith’s new novel Girl Crazy. The essay also serves as an overview of Smith’s controversial career. The essay can be found here.

I start off the essay on an autobiographical note:

The Chivalric Pornographer

by Jeet Heer

When I was younger I used to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out with strippers. The circumstances behind this were more benign, or at least more complex, than you might guess. Fresh out of university I worked for several years as a factotum for an immigration lawyer, who for the sake of discretion we’ll call Mr. Greenberg. A hard-bitten, cigar-chomping former-Brooklynite with a face as spherical as a bowling ball, Mr. Greenberg had a daughter in her mid-20s named Cheryll (another pseudonym) who had a serious drug problem. Periodically she would crash at her widowed father’s place, beg him for money or, on occasion, steal from him. When she had an intermittent falling out with her dad or wanted to be more independent, the quickest way Cheryll had to make money was to work as an exotic dancer.

When Cheryll pulled her disappearing act, Mr. Greenberg would ask me to make sure she was safe, an easy enough task since she was a regular at a handful of clubs, whose dancers and clienteles I got to know well. I remember in particular one club frequented by a recently divorced engineering professor, bleary-eyed and middle-aged, who had a tendency to paternalistically dote on Cheryll and the other dancers, offering them advice on how they could improve themselves through education.

5 thoughts on “Strippers Literature

  1. Underlying Waugh’s novels is a coherent, well-thought-out moral philosophy, which, while indirect and not preachy, gives his work power and resonance. I don’t see that in Smith at all.

  2. @ James

    I enjoy reading Waugh as much as I enjoy reading Smith (which is quite a bit), but Waugh did have one advantage over Smith: he lived in a world that, for the most part, still shared (but was on the verge of throwing away) a common set of values and assumptions.

  3. @Jim and Mark. Thanks for the thoughtful responses. I actually wrote a long essay on Russell Smith for Canadian Notes & Queries #56 (1999), which deals with this issue. In that article, I trace Smith’s debt to the tradition of Waugh and Amis. I also suggest there that Smith’s fiction is animated by a very intriguing strand of cultural conservatism (traceable I think to the aesthete movement of the late 19th century). This cultural conservatism is all the more fascinating because Smith is not a conservative on social, religious or political matters.

    Alas I don’t have a digital copy of my essay, and it’s not available online.

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