I’m a northeasterner, born and bred. I was raised in Massachusetts, and my entire extended family hails from either from Connecticut or New York. But although my upbringing was different than Anna Fields’s grits-and-ambrosia-eating North Carolina childhood, I was willing to give her new memoir, Confessions of a Rebel Debutante, a shot. In a world of debutantes, Fields grew up as a Mr. Wizard-loving geek who loved to sing at her school’s talent show. As a show tunes-loving outcast, I hoped I’d have something in common with Fields after all. Confessions of a Rebel Debutante, tells readers what it takes to be a debutante—and the story of why Anna Fields didn’t make the cut.
Whenever Fields is at a party, her friends ask her about the South. “They envision ‘the South’ as one of two stereotypes: either Gone With the Wind or Jerry Springer,” she writes. The truth, she believes, is somewhere in between the two. And even though Fields belongs to the prestigious Wellingham Academy, the oldest boarding school for girls in the Southeast, she doesn’t fit into the poufy-dress wearing mold that her fellow Southern belles do. She’d rather run around in overalls covered with catfish guts.
Fields exposes the dark, alcoholic underbelly of the “debs” of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Debs and their boyfriends sneak [in alcohol] and get plastered, and then the night is filled with girls throwing up in various bathrooms,” Fields writes about the debutante ball, where each girl is presented as a member of society in an $8,000 dress. Desperate to get away from the drama, Fields and her best friend Alma, a fellow outcast at Wellingham, create a secret club. They spend their time making fun of their fellow debs. Then they skip school, go to Myrtle Beach and make fun of everyone, all on their parents’ dime. How rebellious.
Confessions of a Rebel Debutante feels like an exciting party conversation that gets old after five minutes. Three hours later, when the other party guests are gone, it’s excruciating. Alma and Fields are kicked out of the debutante ball and officially dub themselves “Rebel Debs.” But after Alma is killed in a car accident on a trip to Myrtle Beach, Fields awkwardly sums up the ordeal by making the whole thing about herself: “[Rebel Debutantes are] ‘bad’ because they ask too many questions and kiss too many boys and make up their own rules and live their own lives. Sometimes they go to Myrtle Beach where they take chances and lose things, like their lives.” My sympathies to Fields, Alma and their families, but I think if I tragically lost my best friend while we were on vacation, I’d write a whole lot more than a few halfhearted lines about the Rebel Debs being down a member.
Fields stuns her teachers and classmates when she becomes the second student in Wellingham history to be accepted into Brown University. Fields decides to attend Brown not because of its stellar academic program, but—you guessed it—to rebel against her family, who hoped she’d attend a Southern school. Finally, Fields is free to be whatever and whomever she wants. She flexes her muscles of independence by joining a sorority and getting a fake ID. How rebellious. When Fields decides to become a Cognitive Neuroscience major, I thought her Mr. Wizard-watching days were finally catching up to her—until she reveals that the only reason she decides to take Neuroscience is to show up one of her sorority sisters. “Self, I have no idea what I want to do with my life,” she writes. “So I guess I’ll pick the hardest major at school. Something even harder than what Heather’s doing.”
Like a drawling Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, Fields is wildly successful in anything she sets her mind to. After college, Fields tries her hand at acting, and after talking her way into an Equity-only casting call, is cast as the lead in a professional production of Proof. But once Fields delves into the world of acting, she realizes how catty, mean, and horrible her fellow actors are. Then she figures, why not give playwriting a shot? Even though she’d never written a play before, Fields manages to finish a play in a week. She sends it to NYU’s prestigious Dramatic Writing program, and not only is she immediately accepted, but she receives a full scholarship. When Fields starts attending classes, she realizes how catty, mean, and horrible her fellow playwrights are. It seems that wherever Fields goes, she can’t escape the “soap opera-like melodrama swirling around [her].” Just like in the South, Fields doesn’t feel welcome in Yankee Land, and I began to realize that the location may not be the problem.
At its best, Confessions of a Rebel Debutante is a colorful caricature of Anna Fields’s Southern upbringing. Characters with names like “Cashius McTooth,” “Ida Mae Grumble,” and “Jim ‘Backfat’ Sr.” are constantly saying cute Southern phrases and causing mischief, making her escapades feel wildly interesting for a few minutes. But as the shiny paint began to wear off, I got sick of feeling out of the loop. Fields flits back and forth between topics so quickly, I had to keep flipping my pages back to make sure I didn’t miss something. For example, Fields mentions that her mother is visiting. Once she arrives, her mother makes a big dinner. Later in the scene, Fields’ mother suddenly shouts that the Christmas dinner she has slaved over is ruined because Fields has to work at the last minute. Although I think I’m supposed to care that Fields is going to work, I’m too busy trying to figure out why no one told me it was Christmas.
There’s nothing wrong with a good sentence of resolution at the end of a chapter, but when it’s forced, it feels insulting. When a casting director sees Fields in Proof, she gets an audition for the movie, Mona Lisa Smile, starring Julia Roberts. “So, basically, I was a Rebel Deb auditioning to be in a movie,” Fields writes. In the next sentence, Fields is staying at an all-girls’ school and rubbing elbows with the stars—apparently, she’s gotten a part as a stand-in, but the reader isn’t informed. Instead, Fields jumps right in, making fun of Roberts and the other lead actresses. Maggie Gyllenhaal bothers Fields the most: “Lord knows she had the biggest raccoon eyes I’d ever seen,” she writes. “Plus, she was so thin, her hips stuck out like walker handles.” After realizing how catty, mean, and horrible movie actresses are, Fields moves to Los Angeles to try her hand at Hollywood. (I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either.) On her first day in LA, Fields waits at a stoplight next to none other than Julia Roberts, and she takes it as an omen. “[Roberts] looked less like the Pretty Woman and more like a regular, down-to-earth Southern girl just like me,” Fields writes in an overarching attempt to sum the chapter up. “And maybe, I thought, that made [Roberts] a Rebel Debutante, too.”
Even after I finished the book, I was still a few steps behind. In the book’s Epilogue, Fields mentions that Confessions of a Rebel Debutante is a “rags-to-riches” story of a girl who ended up becoming a soap opera writer. Wait, when did that happen? I knew she took an internship at As the World Turns, which she describes as “a funny place.” But in the book I read, Fields never accepted a job or even wrote an episode. In an attempt to try and get a handle on the real Anna Fields, I looked her up on the Internet. Fields’s IMDB page reveals that her real name is “Anna Stubblefield.” But although her last name would fit right in with the Southern-sounding pseudonyms she assigned to the rest of her cast of characters, Fields never mentions it.
Fields’ book may have a catchy title, but it’s not the rags-to-riches tale she thinks she’s telling. Confessions of a Rebel Debutante is the story of a girl who feels out of place everywhere she goes, so she uses mean-spirited humor to isolate herself. Fields sheds personas like the skin of a sweet Vidalia onion, hopping from debutante to sorority sister, actress to playwright, and screenwriter to author. What will she try next? In the Epilogue, Fields plugs her new project: RebelDebutante.com, a line of clothing, jewelry and underwear.
Lindsay Champion's writing has been featured in Time Out New York, The New York Press, McSweeney's, Fray Quarterly (available now at Barnes & Noble), Common Ties, SMITH Magazine, and in It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, published by Harper Perennial. Lindsay is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has written hundreds of articles for numerous Internet publications, including Travels.com, Livestrong.com and Trails.com. She received her BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where she studied writing. After living in New York City for six years, Lindsay has relocated to Los Angeles for some reason. She lives in Studio City, California, with an albino goldfish named Betty White. New York Words is Lindsay’s web site. Contact Lindsay.