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Boy Named Phyllis: A Suburban Memoir

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What's a boy to do? An only child, a little chubby (and carrying it low). By age six already a regular in the Sears Husky Boys Department. Young Frankie is also gay, and he's trapped in the aluminum-sidinged, lawn-sprinklered, what-exit? wilds of New Jersey suburbia. Imagine Elton John born to an Italian-American Edith and Archie Bunker and you've got the picture. A Boy Named Phyllis is Frank DeCaro's witty gem of a memoir about growing up among working-class Italian folk in Little Falls, New Jersey. There are ...
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Overview

What's a boy to do? An only child, a little chubby (and carrying it low). By age six already a regular in the Sears Husky Boys Department. Young Frankie is also gay, and he's trapped in the aluminum-sidinged, lawn-sprinklered, what-exit? wilds of New Jersey suburbia. Imagine Elton John born to an Italian-American Edith and Archie Bunker and you've got the picture. A Boy Named Phyllis is Frank DeCaro's witty gem of a memoir about growing up among working-class Italian folk in Little Falls, New Jersey. There are the usual trials and tribulations between little Frankie and his parents, Marian and Frank Sr., but this is no angst-ridden, coming-of-age gay memoir. Frank is funny, and A Boy Names Phyllis is the antidote to such books. It is the mid-1960s and the DeCaros have it all: a living room that no one is allowed to live in; a complete collection of cardboard cutout decorations for every holiday; an Entenmann's factory around the corner; and a killer lineup of Friday-night TV - The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and, if you can stay awake long enough, Love, American Style. There's only one problem: instead of developing a crush on Laurie Partridge, Frankie gets a boner for Keith. He perfects a drop-dead Paul Lynde imitation, and ultimately finds liberation through Elton John and Disco.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Peppered with one-liners and pop-cultural references ranging from a mention of the TV series H.R. Pufnstuf to one of the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, DeCaro's memoir of growing up gay in an Italian Catholic family in Little Falls, N.J., sweetly and vividly recalls the bonds and breaches of parent-child relationships, a theme that provides the backdrop to his anecdotal chronicle of childhood tormentors and of recognizing, accepting and eventually celebrating his difference. Ostracized by classmates who knew he was gay before he did ("I'd always put the `boy' in `Flamboyant'") and an enigma to his loving if somewhat inept parents, a young DeCaro finds hope in the extravagance of role models Elton John and Paul Lynde and ensuing validation in his high-school theater department. All this is revealed in ironic turns of phrase, deadpan wit and pinpoint characterization, sparing not his mother: a "pear shaped bundle of Aqua Net"; his father: "a big lug who hated only two things in the whole world: dogs sniffing his crotch, and stepping in chewing gum"; his live-in grandma: "With upper arms that hung like parade-float bunting, the constitution of a battleship, and the salty vocabulary of a sailor on shore leave"; and not, least of all, himself. Growing up gay in the suburbs was a trial for DeCaro, a contributing editor to Martha Stewart Living, yet he renders the experience with ease and humor in this laudable memoir. Author tour. (June)
Library Journal
This witty reminiscence of growing up gay amid the pop culture of the 1960s and 1970s is filled with dating, dieting, and disco. A fine complement to Aaron Fricke's poignant early-1980s memoir, Reflections of a Rock Lobster (Alyson, 1995. reprint). (LJ 5/15/96)
Kirkus Reviews
DeCaro, a humorist, newspaper columnist, and contributing editor of Martha Stewart Living, offers an insistently breezy memoir of growing up gay in New Jersey.

DeCaro was born in 1962, the only child of a propeller-factory worker and a beautician. He demonstrated a precocious predisposition to camp and an aversion to traditional boyish pastimes. Athough he played Little League baseball for a season to try to please his somewhat surly father, he was more in his element dressing in drag for Halloween and enticing his fellow ten-year-old boys into tentative sex play. There were family trips to Florida, where the author dreamed of catching a glimpse of the actor who played the cute older brother on the TV show Flipper, and less ambitious winter excursions to a local ski slope, where the family would sit in the car and watch. A ribald grandmother, a dishy aunt, and the free-spirited mother of a friend, not to mention the examples of such performers as Elton John and Paul Lynde, fed DeCaro's desire to escape the boredom of suburbia. At school his chubbiness, intelligence, and fledgling alternative sexuality made him a target for abuse. DeCaro dwells sadly and with some bitterness on the insults of his peers and the failure of his teachers to discourage homophobic slurs. Happily, by his senior year a combination of dieting, a precocious love affair, and theatrical talent (DeCaro got the Paul Lynde part in Bye Bye Birdie) had vanquished his insecurities and his classmates' hostility. Unhappily, whenever DeCaro's narrative threatens to become emotionally involving, silly one-liners tend to intrude; while the jokes can be hilarious when focused on inconsequential details of suburban taste and habit, they act as irritants in the passages describing adolescent pain, as if the author were frantically attempting to dissipate any incipient solemnity.

While DeCaro can be an incisive observer, his book has about as much lasting resonance as one of his newspaper columns.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670867189
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/29/2000
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank DeCaro

Frank DeCaro (New York, NY) is heard each weekday morning on his own live national call-in program, "The Frank DeCaro Show," on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, which now boasts more than 25 million subscribers. His guests have run the gamut from Ernest Borgnine to Tom Ford—on one three-hour show!—and his following across North America is as loyal as it is diverse.

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