Hilary Carlip, The Queen of the Oddballs

Hilary Carlip, The Queen of the Oddballs

Hilary Carlip’s coming-of-age story was already magnified by her California upbringing and struggles with weight—not to mention her crushes on girls—but she magnified it to an even higher degree with her decision to write a book.  One part Hollywood memoir, one part coming out story and one part feminist biography, Hilary Carlip’s The Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan follows one woman’s fun and madcap journey to carve a life for herself in an unconventional spotlight.

Beginning in 1964 and ending in 2004, The Queen of the Oddballs follows Carlip’s journey from youth into middle age, chronicling her struggles with feminism, weight and homosexuality, as well as her surprising friendship with superstars Carole King, Olivia Newton-John and Carly Simon. The book is written in a sort of diary format on a large-scale format, like, Dear Diary, in 1968, I protested at my first rally, hated my thighs and barely passed the third grade.  With more detail than that, of course, but with the same voyeuristic magnifying glass on Hilary and her cohorts.

Throughout the book, Carlip relies on big happenings in the year or years she highlights, in addition with small realizations that she herself concludes. She talks about the moon landing, Jenny Craig, Tom Cruise, Rodney King and others, often humorously juxtaposing these “big” events with her own small happenings like being a dancer on Newton-John’s spectacular flop, Xanadu. Carlip also includes pictures and other period nostalgia. This is one of the book’s strongest suits—Carlip grounds the reader in the larger reality of the decades in which she speaks and then writes about how she directly or indirectly reacts to them. 

One of the most poignant themes in the memoir is innate tension between Carlip’s thirst for the performing arts and her struggles with her self-image and weight. At her heaviest, Carlip is a comedic or thrill performer—she begins as a juggler, often with flaming pins—so that she can exist in the spotlight. But her talent—rather than her body-- is what’s on display.  As she loses weight and conforms to Hollywood’s thin standard, she turns to more body-highlighting work, such as dancing, as she learns to accept herself and her place in body-conscious Hollywood.

Also, witty and sweet is Carlip’s relatively easy acceptance of her interest in women, beginning with her first crushes in junior high school to meeting her current love interest (at the time of the book’s publishing). Carlip's acceptance of her interest in women seemed uncomplicated—even her straight friends were experimenting during the height of the feminist movement. Still, her ease in her own acceptance didn't make her breakups any less heartbreaking or her difficulty in figuring out if her crush was interested in women any less, well, difficult. 

Carlip’s writing is fast, immensely readable and surprisingly revealing.  Carlip is not afraid to be vulnerable and is very capable of remembering the minutiae of her life.  Romantic nostalgia certainly is another character in this novel—adolescence for anybody, even in Hollywood, cannot be that delightfully quirky! But with almost any memoir, or memory, it seems almost impossible for a mis-rememberance of the past not to play a prominent role. Carlip’s memoir is still a unique page-turner and certainly worth a quick read.

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