Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott

From the age of five, Alysia Abbott was raised by her single parent, a gay man. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father is about growing up in San Francisco in the 70s and 80s. Steve Abbott was a poet who was very active in San Francisco's literary scene. He was a free spirit who rarely held a full-time job.

Alysia writes: "Dad wanted to give me the same freedom he himself enjoyed, the freedom to live a public life, that of a flaneur, where we could trade the boring concerns of home for the intellectual gymnastics of coffeehouse banter, the unpredictability of the street." "Because he hadn't felt free to be his true self growing up in Lincoln, in our fairyland he raised me with fluid boundaries."

This is mostly a story about an unconventional family, but it is also a historical and personal record of the AIDS epidemic. The main people in Alysia's world were all gay men.

"Between the years of 1983 and 1985, the numbers of Americans with AIDS went from 1,300 to over 12,000, but San Francisco was the first city to experience epidemic levels of the disease. By the time the first HIV test was introduced in 1985, close to half the gay men in San Francisco were already infected." Alysia's father was one of them.

There is a slightly mournful quality to this memoir, unsurprisingly. Alysia wishes she had been less petulant and difficult as a teenager. Her regrets are more poignant because they only had each other, and her father died so young.

I enjoyed the way Alysia brings a particular era into vivid focus. Wauzi Records, across the street from their Haight Ashbury apartment, was where she spent hours as a young teen. "Before YouTube, before everyone had their MTV, this is how we surfed culture, how we weighed style choices."

It's a trip down memory lane for me too.

Readalike: Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter by Alison Wearing.

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