The subtitle "a memoir of my father" lets you know right away that Alysia Abbott is/was highly connected with her father. She is an only child raised by a single parent from the age of two, so that makes sense. She and her dad were no Gilmore Girls, but they were intimately bonded.
This isn't a spoiler, you know from the beginning that the senior Abbott, Steve, is going to die of AIDS while Alysia is still young, so an extra factor in how this story is remembered and told is that it's written twenty years after the author lost her father, when she was in her early twenties.
I may be overly traditional in my literary tastes because I found the memoir/biography style a little awkward. In trying to tell both stories at once, and perhaps being overindentified with father, Abbott doesn't always leave the interpretation to the reader. She'll reveal some selfish behavior of her dad's and immediately explain it away. I do the same thing in my writing, so I get it. Steve comes off as selfish anyway, even as he is devoted to his daughter. Despite being a queer artist, born just before the baby boom, he comes off like some of my contemporaries' conservative fathers who view their children as creatures who need to be pleasing and obedient.
Sheesh, it seems that I didn't get the best impression of Steve despite Alysia's best efforts. (First naming to avoid confusion.) I did find the story touching, and might have wept a teeny bit, as I finished the book stuck on an F-train that took an hour to get from Jay Street/Metrotech to East Broadway.
Alysia isn't any easier on her self. She shows her own selfish side, as she refuses to deal with her grief after her father goes from HIV+ to having an AIDS related condition to having full-blown AIDS, which in the early 1990s was very ugly. I guess I don't mind it as much in her because I can completely relate to that kind of emotional shutdown and the physical and emotional distancing she did that could have been an unconscious revenge for Steve's parental failings. Btw I'm not saying he comes off as an awful father, just not a child-centric one.
I always enjoy reading your letters, even when you're blue.
That's about him, not about her, and he goes on to respond to her feeling jealous of a rich friend's spending to art celebs who were poor in Paris and elsewhere and how money isn't everything. That's true, of course, but not kind or comforting.
Though I didn't love love love it, I still recommend it highly because I think lots of other people I know will love love love Fairyland. The substory, of AIDS in late 1980s/early 1990s San Francisco is worth reading unto itself for passages like this one:
A few years later Kent [Story, the owner of novelty store Etc. Etc.] would contract AIDS, and like so many in that first wave quickly became sick. Etc. Etc., like the other stores he owned on the street, would change hands and eventually be replaced by brightly lit chains, just as Gaston Ice Cream on the corner of Haight and Ashbury would become Ben & Jerry's and Wauzi Records across the street would become the Gap, and next to the Gap, Seeds of Life would become Z Gallerie. And on, and on."
That gets me thinking, again, of how different the world might look if those millions of gay men (and all of the other groups so drastically affected) hadn't died of the plague. It also gets me hating Ronald Reagan all over again. She addresses the issue again in the epilogue:
Those who hadn't lived through the epidemic would come to know almost nothing about it, as a cultural amnesia set in. The heavy warlike losses of the AIDS years were relegated to queer studies classrooms, taught as gay history, not American history.
I also find touching her musing on having grown up in a fairyland, and how that's part of who she is, despite her heterosexuality and her not having been enmeshed in queer community in a long time.
Bonus points for beginning her acknowledgments, "Libraries are endangered treasures." She goes on to laud the institutions and individual librarians and archivists who supported her research.
I set up interviews with our gray tabby, Heidi, so named because of her tendency to hide under the furniture whenever I entered the room. I'd ask Heidi a question, then pinch her ear with my fingernails to elicit a response, capturing the exchange on Dad's playback tape recorder. But this activity increased her elusiveness.