I prefer memoirs to novels, and I love a good coming-of-age story, particularly one with a feisty female protagonist who faces unique challenges (or normal challenges in a unique way), so Fairyland, by Alysia Abbott, was right up my alley. A coming-of-age memoir about a woman who was raised by her single, gay father in 1970s and 80s San Francisco at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, Fairyland is, as a New York Times book reviewer noted, “an elegy of sorts, written two decades after a father’s death by a woman who is now a parent herself.” I think what I appreciated most about the rich telling of her story was how well Abbott conveyed both the struggle and the joy of her unique upbringing. Her father’s love is apparent throughout the book, but so is his oftentimes gross irresponsibility and almost indifference to his daughter’s needs and his job to protect her. What I really took away the most from the book is the idea of how imperfect love is. Yes, it may look more imperfect among some people and certain relationships — and I think the love between Alysia and her father is a perfect example of very imperfect love — but there’s none of us who can’t relate to loving and being loved imperfectly.
Those of you who read the book, do you think Alysia’s childhood would have been “better” if her grandparents had raised her? And how do you measure better? I think her life certainly would have been more comfortable and stable, but I wonder if she would have still been just as lonely. Her grandparents didn’t strike me as the warmest, most loving people. But with them, Alysia would have had more access to her extended family and maybe would have made friends more easily. (Maybe she wouldn’t have felt so “weird” or wouldn’t have been so embarrassed to bring friends over to her home). Then again, I’m sure she learned a lot from her father that has informed her roles as a writer, a mother, and a compassionate, thoughtful person in the world that perhaps she wouldn’t have learned as well — or at all — living with her grandparents.
Anyway, I’m so excited that Sophia Coppola is adapting Fairyland as a film! She’s one of my favorite directors and I can’t wait to see what kind of vision and interpretation she’ll have of the story.
What are your thoughts on Fairyland? Did you feel compassion toward her father, Steve, or just disdain over the way he raised his young daughter? Do you think he was right to ask her to leave school and come care for him as he died? Do you think she was right to drag her feet for as long as she did and to avoid him for much of her college career while his health rapidly declined? What do you think would have become of the family if Alysia’s mother hadn’t died?
(Our May/June Book Club selection is The Husband’s Secret by Lianne Moriarty).