In the last of Times Square’s peep shows, a man pays $40 to watch a girl strip naked behind glass. These institutions, left over from the days when 42nd Street was the vicious center of vice, will soon disappear completely from a rapidly gentrifying New York City, their stories lost forever. Yet, the story of the peeps is too interesting and too vital to the history of Times Square not to be told.
In The Last of the Live Nude Girls, Sheila McClear pulls back the curtain back on the little-documented world of the peep shows and their history. A late bloomer from the Midwest, McClear became a stripper in the peeps after finding herself adrift in New York. But after-dark Times Square seeped into her blood, and she ended up staying much longer than she imagined. The story she tells is not just of her own coming-of-age — nor is it one of sex and vice and salaciousness. Rather, it is a redemptive narrative of modern life on the fringes of society in New York City.
Sheila McClear is a reminder that kids can still arrive in New York City from Nowheresville and break in with some serious grit, hard work, and talent.
Everyone is required to buy two copies.
Eye-opening, gritty, and compelling.
A collection of disciplined and rewarding New York tales.
Ms. McClear’s closeness to the material most enriches her reporting when it comes to her coworkers. Despite their outsized personalities, they could have wound up sounding as interchangeable as their stage names, but with Ms. McClear’s writing, even their tattoos are memorable. Their substance abuse becomes familiar, occasionally even endearing, in a madcap way. Ms. McClear also has a keen ear for dialogue.
Sheila McClear’s beautifully detailed account of her life as a peep-show girl reads as both a eulogy and a paean to the freaks and misfits who have long given their souls to the city. Filled with psychological insight, metaphor, and — above all — empathy, this book should be read by anyone who has ever taken or even contemplated extreme measures to escape the pain and tedium of life, with the hope of finding some meaning or redemption along the way.
McClear writes about her secret peep-show existence with the ribald expertise of a natural storyteller, but it’s her deeper exploration, into the motivations behind her actions, that makes the book both memorable and highly relevant.
Sheila McClear’s sharp, sweetly personal account of New York’s vanished tenderloin asks the question if such supposedly degrading places are such a blight, why do we remember them with such fondness? A fascinating and honest read.
McClear is most convincing and most moving, in fact, on the complex relationship between the sex trade and her own frustrated sex life.
The most compelling aspect of Last of the Live Nude Girls is that it illustrates just how easily one can wind up living a life outside the margins.