Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Looking Back

When I searched for “memoirs” on Amazon I got 226,091 results. Even limiting the search to 2013 produced 21,201 results. It simply isn't possible that there are that many interesting life stories to be told. So I usually avoid them altogether. But Alysia Abbott's Fairyland hit close to home. She was raised by her single father in San Francisco only blocks from where I once lived, and she is less than two years older than my oldest child. But what a different life she led.

The memoir is based mainly on her father Steve's journals, which Alysia discovers after he has died of AIDS in 1992. He was a gay poet and counter culture writer in the post-hippie Haight of the 1970's, and although his love for his daughter is clear, his parenting skills were shaky at best. His journals reveal his desperate desire to maintain his identity as an artist and a gay man, at time when gay liberation was still in its infancy. There were no gay parent role models, and Alicia lived a sometimes lonely and confusing life as she navigated between the structured world of her private school (paid for by her maternal grandparents) and the artistic chaos of her father's bohemian circle.

The understandable narcissism of Alysia's young adulthood collides with Steve's need for her help as the effects of the AIDS virus ravage his health, and Abbott is honest about her ambivalence and resentment. But their love for each other never faltered, and she looks back on the shortcomings of her younger self with honesty and regret.

Abbott's style has a somewhat awkward and sewn-together feel as she tries to combine passages from her father's journals with her own reminiscences. But the novel, written twenty years after her father's death, when she is herself a mother, is a loving tribute to her flawed but devoted father, as well as a nostalgic look at a childhood in fairyland.