pulp (2006-25)

Close Encounters of Her Own Kind

Knoxvillian Angie Vicars releases a charming collection of essays

by Jeanne McDonald

Angie Vicars is the funny little sister you never had but always longed for. Little, because, well, she is little, but she’s always coming up with enormous metaphors for life, thus sort of evening things out. And funny, because her revelations about any event, even an event as uneventful as a traffic ticket, can make you laugh because you’ve been there, you’ve had your ticket, too.

She’s the Catherine Keener character in Lovely and Amazing , the one who makes miniature chairs and tries to sell them in gift shops and then fires the f-word at retailers who don’t appreciate her art. She has a vulnerability that’s endearing, yet there’s that tough center that–yeah–holds. In short, Angie Vicars speaks for you , only maybe a little more articulately. And, petite though she may be, Vicars comes out as bigger than life in My Barbie Was an Amputee (Celtic Cat Publishing, Knoxville, $15), her newly released book of essays, many of which originally appeared in Metro Pulse.

The good thing about a book of essays is that you can read a few, turn out the light, and read some more the next night. The bad thing about Vicars’ essays, though, is that they are so funny and appealing that you can’t close the book until you finish, and by then, you’re hungry for more. Which, actually, might come soon, because you get the feeling that every single incident in her life, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, gives her inspiration for explication, and you find yourself hoping she’s making notes. Daily. Hourly. For example, take the essay “Thirty Something,” which is essentially about becoming an adult: “I’m eating vegetables now,” she says. “I have a counter full of facial products... I joined a gym... I use the word ‘buff’ to describe myself. I’m even in a prayer support group. That means several people are trying to figure out what to do with my life.”

Even pain comes off as a subject for Vicars’ offbeat humor. When she leans over to pet her cat, pulls a muscle and suffers unbearable back pain, she starts asking everybody—friends, strangers, doctors, nurses, rehab people—to shoot her and get her out of her misery. Not with a needle, but a revolver. “Where are your values these days, people?” she whines. “You’ll drive by and shoot a perfect stranger standing on the corner. . . You’ll shoot somebody who catches you doing something illegal. But you won’t shoot your friend who’s been asking politely all day. Were you raised in a barn? That is just so rude.”

A lot of Knoxvillians know Angie Vicars as the former community relations director at the old Bookstar, which later morphed into the venue for Barnes and Noble. You remember: She was the pretty little dark-haired girl with the shy exterior who was always helping you find some obscure title or showing you where your favorite poet’s new release was shelved. What you couldn’t know was that quite possibly at that very moment, she was bursting with irreverent and arcane information, or suppressing a secret laugh at some weird observation of her own as she calmly flipped through Books in Print to accommodate your query. And most likely you also didn’t realize that she had a Master of Fine Arts in screen writing from the University of Miami or that she was a published poet, or, furthermore, that she had written a novel, Treat (Haworth Press, Inc., 2001), or that she now produces a prize-winning website for WATE.

The Barbie book changes all that by letting you enter her complicated mind, a mind that attracts trivia as surely as if her temporal lobe were made of Velcro. By the time you get to the last essay, called “The Suck Factor,” you identify so closely with Vicars that you want her to like all your friends, although she might not know them, and to agree with your evaluations of places and events that you deem admirable. That’s why it’s good that in “Suck” it turns out that she loves Knoxville, and so do her friends, some of whom you actually do know. “What you should believe,” she writes, “is that I could afford to live here and write while I worked retail till I got a real job. Throw in there that I love the Smoky Mountains, polluted as they are. . . And I love my memories of the West Hills IHOP, when it was plastered with paintings of Jesus on the cross and a different waitress every week called me ‘honey.’ Whenever your straw hits the bottom of your drink,” she says in her inimitable, inventive fashion, “someone else just moved to Knoxville.”

Let’s just hope that Vicars stays around to help us keep loving our quirky little city from her beautifully tilted perspective.