“Small Fry” – Lisa Brennan-Jobs (2/5 ★)

Picking up this memoir that I bought almost a year ago during an event with the author at the Shakespeare & Co shop in Paris, I’ve got to say that I was a bit disappointed…

I have picked up the book on 8 different days to get through it, which was a proof that it simply didn’t manage to captivate my attention. I read Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson in 2012, which I absolutely loved, so I guess that’s why my expectations were really high and didn’t manage to be fulfilled.

One thing I’ve got to say, is that the style of Lisa’s writing is really beautiful and mesmerising. The way situations or images are described are extremely visual and this definitely showcases her talent for writing:

“In the shower with my mother, the droplets made their way down the wall. Droplets were like animals: they jerked and took winding paths, slower and faster, leaving a trail.” (p. 14)

“A few days later I found my mother leaning over her bathroom sink again, yanking her braces off with needle-nose pliers. […] ‘Please, don’t,’ I said. I stood next to her in the small bathroom. The wires stuck out like silver whiskers.” (p. 173)

Regardless the impressive writing, the whole narrative of the book somehow felt messy to me. During the event where I purchased the book, Lisa explained that she has been writing on a manuscript for this book for about 30 years & only decided to publish it after the death of Steve Jobs (if you’re curious about the whole conversation, you can listen to it here within the Shakespeare & Co podcast). While it is quite a vast and very detailed story of her childhood growing up in California with her mother and her father, having a difficult relationship with both of them, I somehow felt like something was missing. It ended up being too “impersonal” since you only found out about the parts of her life that had touch points with Steve Jobs, whereas I would have been interested in finding out more about her as a person, rather than her as Steve Jobs’ daughter. So many stories got started but you never found out how they ended. Just like in the quote mentioned above, her mother tearing off her braces by herself, that couldn’t have ended without any consequences! Did she have lasting marks left on her teeth after that? It’s not revealed. Or another situation where young Lisa told us about her ideal type of woman – but what happened afterwards? Did she ever become it or did she throw the image over board? We never get to find out… Those are just two examples but countless situations like this can be found within the book.

“A few days later I found a picture in a magazine – it might have been an ad for Guess or Jordache jeans – in which a woman with short, tousled hair, wet maybe, was leaping. She flew above the dark asphalt, toes pointed: perfect splits in the air. She wore a T-shirt and stonewashed jeans. I wanted to be that girl too.” (p. 82)

What I couldn’t manage to get out of my head and what was amplified by the end of this memoir, was simply how this is a story of a very very privileged girl. Yes, she had some problems with her parents, but who doesn’t? Yes, her father was distant & pretty much non-existent in her life, but that’s not really news either nowadays. She had the luck to be able to attend a psychotherapist from the earliest days of her childhood that was paid for by her dad. The fact that even when her father refused to pay her university tuition in her last year of studies, she somehow still got swiped up by some rich neighbours who happily paid for her life expenses. Other phrases mentioning that the worries in her life were that some designer brand stores wouldn’t have her size of clothing make you question if this really was a memoir worth publishing or not…

“Kevin and Dorothy paid my tuition for my last year. […] The gift was unfathomably big.” (p. 361)

“We went to Emporio Armani. Located in a converted bank with a towering ceiling and a café inside an internal balcony. […] I worried, as I always did when shopping, that my size would be sold out.” (p. 346)

As it is mentioned in a Reading Group Guide attached in the end, the author looked for some “naughty” details in her life to be able to sprinkle her story with them & after finishing the book, it feels like it wouldn’t have worked without them. She would’ve been too unlikable of a character. Some other parts I enjoyed were those that shared some completely obscure details from her life:

“By the time I was seven, my mother and I had moved thirteen times.” (p. 3)

“At that house the neighbours owned aggressive goats, and when my parents arrived home in the car, my father would divert the goats as my mother ran to the door, or he would run to her side of the car and carry her.” (p. 8)

One of my favourite parts is one in the very beginning of the book when she tells the story of how her mom and her broke into her dad’s apartment to get a couch that he promised to give them:

“We rang the bell and waited, but no one came. My mother tried the door.
‘Locked,’ she said. ‘Damn, I bet he’s not going to show.’ […]
My father was supposed to come to the door and invite us in. […]

Instead, my mother was climbing the house like a thief. […] She unlatched the window, which scraped up and open, and disappeared, leg by leg, and emerged a few seconds later through the front door into the sunshine.
‘We’re in!’ she said. […]
The next day, my father called. ‘Hey, did you break in and take the couch?’ he asked. He laughed. He had a silent alarm, he said. It had rung in the local police station, and four cop cars had sped to the house, arriving just after we left.

‘Yes, we did,’ she said, a flaunt in her voice.” (p. 6)

What started off as a really promising story just didn’t manage to convince me. I feel like the popularity of this book is riding too much on the wave of Steve Jobs being such a well known personality. If this book would have been about the relationship of a random father and his daughter, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been successful. If you’re interested in getting an insight into Steve Jobs’ world, I would rather suggest you his own biography 😉

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

Edition: ISBN 9-781611-854916
Grove Press 2019

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