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Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father Paperback – 25 Jul 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (25 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393348903
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393348903
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 280,370 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Vibrant and engaging memoir..." The Bookseller "A wonderfully touching account, not just of a distinctly different father/daughter dynamic but also a historic time in San Francisco." --Gay Times

About the Author

Alysia Abbot's work has appeared in Real Simple, Salon and Atlantic.com. She was a Nieman Affiliate at Harvard University and a contributing producer at WNYC radio. Author website: www.alysiaabbott.com Twitter: @AlysiaAbbott

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mrs Susan M Hazelwood on 4 Jan. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wow, I don't think I could admit to some of the feelings Alysia Abbott has been truthfull about but we've all felt them to a greater or leser degree. Very readable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 144 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The compelling story of a little girl growing up in gay San Francisco 13 May 2013
By Neurasthenic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book has a perfect title, a perfect cover, and the author has a memorable and easily shared personal history. On the strength of these alone, I expect that this book will be widely read and discussed, and perhaps will even become standard reading in gay & lesbian studies programs. Though it is at heart a simple story of a sort seen in countless works of young adult fiction, about a girl raised by her father after the death of her mother in a car accident, Abbott uses this to discuss numerous vital themes. More than perhaps any other book I've recently read, I expect this one will have broad cultural impact.

I don't think I can discuss this book without a bit of a spoiler (forgive me, but this much is given away on the book jacket anyway). Abbot is raised by her gay father in bohemian circumstances in San Francisco. It sounds like the setup for a sitcom (imagine them critiquing each other's outfits, or boyfriends, perhaps), but there is little humor here. Abbott's story feels fraught with peril from almost the first page, though we already know the outcome -- that she survives and he does not. Abbot's approach to this story is relentlessly earnest, and some of the investigation of her family's past evokes the great "My Dark Places."

Her sense of time and place will resonate to anyone of her generation (those who went to high school in the 1980s); some aspects may be specific to struggling bohemians of San Francisco but it is a testament to the great leveling power of American popular culture that Abbott's preferences in music and blue jeans will be immediately recognizable to those of us who grew up in far different circumstances in other parts of the country.

Her father was an impoverished poet and cartoonist and sometimes gay activist. It is amusing, and really not surprising from the perspective of adulthood, that her family's bohemian status starts as a social liability but is an asset by junior high. She quotes some of his poetry in the story, and illustrates some episodes with his own cartoons about the same events.

The book is effortlessly political; Abbott refers explicitly to the campaign against homosexuals led by orange juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant, but otherwise she leaves our broader national debate on the subject in the background. It presumably informs the behavior of those of her mother's relatives who treat Abbott poorly, but it's not Abbott's role to argue that homosexuals deserve the same rights as everybody else, this conclusion is to her so fundamental as to be beneath articulating. Debates over homosexual rights in America often center around their threat to children (or more nebulously to "the family"), and so Abbott's experience is useful even if she does not explicitly hold it out to us as a political lesson. Reactionaries claim that homosexuals will be corrupting parents, and that they will, accidentally or deliberately, program their children to be similarly homosexual. Abbot would scoff at this of course. Her personal history does however demonstrate one drop of truth in reactionary claims -- her father was not ready to raise a child and if not for the generous involvement of her grandparents and a couple of adults outside the family who provided protection and guidance, the reader can not help but think that Abbott's life might have turned out quite badly. However, in the main Abbott's life stands as a powerful testament against the bigots' views -- you will not find anybody who was raised in more gay an atmosphere than she was, and she's grown to be an urbane and articulate writer and soccer mom in Cambridge, MA, married to a (male) college professor. She is, in a word, normal, and I suspect that any parent, whether gay, straight, divorced, widowed, or whatever, would be delighted to have a child turn out so well.

The cover photo is perfect. Not since Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has a photo so well captured the complex themes of a nonfiction book.

I've only a couple of nits to pick. I wish Abbott had identified sources on the dialog she quotes but can't possibly have remembered herself. Did she speak with other participants? Did her dad summarize in his journal? Is she merely extrapolating? Note for example the discussion of the first poetry reading she attended with her father, at the age of six. Every participant is named, their outfits are described, she quotes their poetry, all as though she remembered it herself. Is this a fabrication? Did somebody film it? Why doesn't she just say "Remarkably, so-and-so was filming that night, and I could watch . . . "

Also some passages are perhaps overwritten. Never enough to say "the present tense" when she can say "that most exciting of tenses --the present."

These are however minor points, and will not derail a reader from rapidly completing, and discussing with others, this fascinating book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Captures San Francisco - and an unconventional childhood - exceptionally well 12 Sept. 2013
By Jay Hinman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I moved to San Francisco right out of college in 1989, and was raised in the shadow of it, an hour down the peninsula in San Jose. The City (capital C, of course) was, by the time I was moving in, consumed by an AIDS crisis that was killing young men in the low hundreds every single month. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury, just blocks from where "FAIRYLAND"'s author Alysia Abbott grew up with her gay poet/writer father, Steve Abbott - and where she was caring for him as he died from AIDS as well. It was a weird time. San Francisco is such a gay city, and AIDS activists and organizations and marches and hospice care fundraisers were everywhere at that time. The documentary film "We Were Here", which is excellent, tells the story very well. As a non-gay male whose main and almost exclusive interests in the early 90s were rocknroll, record collecting and starting my work career, I found the AIDS crisis both easy to ignore and impossible to get away from. I wanted to read Abbott's book to get a better sense of her San Francisco, the one I lived in or near for much of the same time, and at the same age (early 20s) - but also because her memoir of growing up in a loose, ever-shifting sort of bohemia with her dad sounded like a terrific ride. It was.

"FAIRYLAND" is a memoir that I recommend to anyone unconditionally. Primarily, Abbott tells an excellent chronological tale of her girlhood, teenage years and young adulthood in a non-maudlin, often self-effacing and extremely loving manner toward her father, who raised her on a wing and a prayer all by himself. Her parents were educated and radical grad student activists and hippies in Atlanta who married young, lived fast and, in her mother's case, died very young. They married despite her knowledge that her husband-to-be was bisexual and, as it turned out, later to be exclusively gay. In fact, Steve Abbott was radicalized by Stonewall in 1969, so we're talking about someone who was "out and proud" very early, to his credit. Alysia Abbott writes very well, piecing together her father's recollections and journal entries, of her young mother's struggles with her new husband's boyfriends and about the almost monthly personal growth she was undergoing from 60s wild child to somewhat responsible mother.

That said, Alysia Abbott pulls no punches throughout this book on the shortcomings of her parents, and more importantly, those of herself. The pain she feels even writing about her teenage selfishness and her naive/fearful neglect of her lonely and eventually dying father, without her even having to say it, is obviously immense, and she reprints letters that she wrote him that must have been painful to re-read 20 years later, let alone share with the world. It's also clear that she was, on the whole, a wonderful and loving daughter, and the true light of her dad's too-short life. Steve Abbott is painted as a complex but exceptionally good-hearted man, one who was sure of his sexuality and creative calling as a poet/artist/bohemian, yet who struggled with feelings of self-worth and with loneliness. You wonder, as Alysia does, what their life might have been like had her mother Barbara lived. Would it have even been together? Not likely - but it is possible it would have made for a different, but equally good book.

The dissonance of being a gay man raising a daughter in free-swinging, liberated 70s and early 80s San Francisco must have been a minefield. Alysia Abbott writes of how jarring it was for her, simultaneously embracing her father's friends and lifestyle while often yearning for the quote-unquote normal childhoods she saw on TV and that she observed in her friends. Think, though, of Steve Abbott's uniqueness as a gay dad, back in a time when no one had a gay dad that they lived with. Marriages would instantly dissolve when one parent came out as gay in the 70s, and the children would almost always be placed with the straight parent. This was not an option in the Abbott household, nor would either of them ever wished for any alternative but the one they were given. Steve Abbott often found himself on the periphery of the gay community, wanting to be more active, to date more, to go out more - and yet wholly devoted to raising his daughter in the best ways he knew how.

The memoir also does a terrific job recounting young Alysia's humorous experiences with many San Francisco-centric touchstones: the poetry readings and internecine warfare amongst the literary set; "The Quake", the new wave/Rock of the 80s station that we both listened to in the Men Without Hats era; the gay scene in the Castro and at Café Flore; and the dawn of grunge in the Haight, with gutter punks, skinheads and street kids and late nights at the I-Beam and Nightbreak. That I myself was very much present for. I even drove past her old place at 545 Ashbury the other day while in the midst of reading the book, to get a better frame of reference for her San Francisco - wow. Regardless of her father's sexuality and their life circumstances, there's little doubt that her childhood would have had major and significant differences from mine in the safety and comfort of suburban Sacramento and San Jose.

It's touching and powerful when you realize toward the middle of the book that the "differently-parented" Alysia Abbott writing the book did not have to go through a crucible of drug use, depression and inner pain to write a memoir as powerful as she did. In fact, she seems to have turned out just great. She benefited from summers-long stints at her grandparents on her mother's side's house in Illinois, which provided her with a more conventional worldview to balance out her otherwise very unconventional youth. She was placed into a first-rate private French school, one that is still there now. Finally, Alysia Abbott had her father, who - cliché as it may be for me to write - helped shape her into the person and the writer that she is today. Her book ends with Steve Abbott's inevitable and exceptionally sad death, though she does not milk it any more than is necessary to cleanly wrap up this coda in her tale, and ends the book with a short epilogue that ties the story into an elegy for the many, many men that were dying in horrible ways across San Francisco in the 80s and 90s - when many of us were looking the other way. It's a powerful piece of writing, and a terrific memoir that succeeds on just about every level.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Charming and compelling 3 Jun. 2013
By Bill Kirtz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Fairyland" is a charming and compelling memoir that combines vivid portraits of a neglected aspect of the `70's San Francisco cultural scene and of a girl forging an identity from of loving chaos.
Alysia Abbott's father, Steve, was an influential poet, editor and organizer whose reputation today is overshadowed by better-known friends like Gregory Corso. Her daughter brings him to light amid kaleidoscopic descriptions of the Haight, the kindness of a host of relative strangers and the growing menace of the AIDS plague.
Literary offspring's memoirs can be mere interruptions in account s of the lives we're really interested in.
Not so here. The author's own story is fascinating. Unsparingly, Ms. Abbott details the myths she created (dad turned gay because mom was killed) and the detachment she needed (pursuing Paris amour as Steve's t-cell counts dropped) to survive in a lonely sea of Swanson's fried chicken dinners.
She writes beautifully. Here's a glimpse of her very young self with her father and one of his early lovers. "The three of us stayed in Golden Gate Park as long as the day would have us. When the light faded and the air cooled we began the long walk home together. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees shimmered in the early evening light, looking like rust-colored sequins."
Ms. Abbott's essays and selections from her father's poems and novels are available on [...]/ and [...]. "Fairyland" makes us eager to read more of those and of Steve Abbott's seminal, neglected work.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A different slice of life described painfully but beautifully 31 May 2013
By Sandra - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this well written memoir by the age 40-something daughter of an openly gay father growing up in the tumultuous 70s and 80s in san francisco. I was born in the same year as the author's father and I have 2 sons about the same age as the author. I also spent my university and graduate school years in california, near san francisco. But if I were to write a memoir of my life, there would be virtually no overlap with the father's life style, parenting or emotions. So this book opened my eyes to a slice of life so near and yet so far from what I know. Fascinating. Drugs, bisexuality, homosexuality, self-indulgence, openness with a child beyond anything I could imagine---all this described with poetry and not sensationalism or depression, through the eyes of a beautiful and lonely soul who continued to adore her father despite painful moments, many of them, culminating with her father's death after he summons his 22-year-old daughter back to san francisco to care for him in his final weeks dying of aids. I was left torn open emotionally but inspired by the book which must have been so cathartic to the author in its writing.

I must also say that the book's cover is wonderful both before and after you read the memoir--the father and his brave daughter dressed up for a night out in fairyland.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful.... 7 Jun. 2013
By Marisol123 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book. While it was so incredibly insightful into an historic moment in time and the epidemic that changed and ended so many lives, the author's ability to bring her poet father's own voice to light once again is done with such beauty and poise that I didn't want the story to end. Look forward to reading more by Alysia Abbott.
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