June 2006

Melissa Fischer

nonfiction

Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan by Hillary Carlip

Beginning at age eight, Hillary Carlip funneled her acute sense of identity crisis into a lucrative career in entertainment. Instead of repressing, denying, or ignoring her issues like the rest of us normal people, she became the Queen of the Oddballs, capable of conjuring alternate personalities at a moment’s notice. The fact that her chosen aliases included characters from popular culture such as Holly Golightly, Pollyanna, and a Beverly Hillbilly only proves that her internal radar was finely tuned to the Hollywood frequency in her midst.

With a humorous tone that never treads on the pretentious, Carlip presents the story of her young life with sincerity and ease. The Queen is clearly capable of laughing at her exploits, and this brings meaning and depth to the silly escapades she describes. After all, it would be hard not to laugh along with a woman who has eaten fire, juggled balls, rocked the stage and stalked rockers. But when we are first introduced to the budding oddball, we are treated to both retrospective insights as well as youthful immediacy, beginning with the very first paragraph: "What do you do when you feel so invisible you can’t sleep without a light on, afraid that in the dark you just might vanish entirely? Simple. Become someone interesting enough to be noticed. And that’s exactly what I did when I was eight years old."

The author lays out her story in a chronological format, with lists of important historical, cultural, and political events preceding each chapter. These serve to show the reader not only what influenced Carlip, but also what was going on in her environment as she was trying on her various personas. Laced with scrapbook-style snippets, photographs, and other ephemera, Queen of the Oddballs is a quick read that leaves one with the sense that Carlip has invited us to truly know her. Throughout her youth, Hillary persistently hovers between worlds -- gay and straight, high school and adulthood, self-acceptance and self-hatred. This she accomplishes while surviving on mere scraps of parental attention, to which she responds with a favorite line from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, complete with Holly Golightly’s English accent: “You don’t have to worry. I’ve taken care of myself for a long time.”

Carlip’s autobiography is, on the surface, goofy entertainment; however, much like its author, the presence of a profound backbone is pleasantly undeniable. With more clarity, flow, and originality than even more experienced memoirists, the Queen writes in an easy narrative style that is peppered with moments of poignancy. In the end, we realize that Carlip is only an oddball because she had the balls to run toward rather than away from her quirks. She found her reflection in the mirror of popular culture, but didn’t pursue the hashing out of her identity in the venues most people choose. Like everyone else, Carlip pieced her young identity together through the amalgamation of a variety of external influences; unlike most everyone else, Carlip chose to take unusual risks and was rewarded for her effort. Instead of forcing herself to belong to someone else’s world, the Queen simply created her own, and that she chose to share it so honestly is her readers’ good fortune.

Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan by Hillary Carlip
HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060878835
288 Pages