Queer Books with Julie: Fairyland: a Memoir
Alysia Abbott was two when her mother died in a tragic car accident. Shortly thereafter, her bisexual father, the poet and activist Steve Abbott, moves with her to San Francisco to live an openly homosexual lifestyle.
Steve dragged her to poetry readings, raucous parties, and in and out of temporary homes often living with queer roommates. Other times he left her alone admonishing her not to open the door and “play with your Little People” while he went to party.
That he loved his daughter there is no doubt; that she wished for a more normal life is also without doubt. He wrote her poems, illustrated comic books, and sent her love letters: “When Alysia is asleep Daddy will give Alysia a big kiss;” she imagines what life would have been like with a mother and a big family and a houseful of animals.
Abbott’s Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father is the unsentimental, straightforward examination of being raised by an openly gay father in San Francisco. It offers a unique glimpse into the cultural heyday of 70′s San Francisco, and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic on its population in the 80s. In many ways Alysia is not different from any ordinary child/teenager who wishes their life were different. That she happens to be the motherless daughter of a gay man during an historic time in our country’s history makes Fairyland no ordinary coming-of-age tale.
Shortly after his death of AIDS-related complications, Abbott discovers her father’s journals in a dining room closet. Using these journals, his voluminous letters, and his poetry, Abbott pieces together the story of her father and her upbringing. It is a story that is jarring to Alysia; it doesn’t resemble what she’d been told over the years. Reconciling her childhood memories with her father’s version of events allows Abbott to make peace with a tumultuous and sometimes frightening childhood.
Steve Abbott’s journal entries offer a treasure trove into his feelings on raising a daughter while embracing his homosexuality and the excitement of the times. Shortly before Alysia would have turned seven, a journal entry describes his struggle to figure out a better life for Alysia, including his consideration of abandoning his sexuality to provide her a more stable, heterosexual lifestyle.
Fairyland was an enjoyable read with a unique glimpse into an historic time for the LGBT community. Abbott writes well, and tells a good story. While I would have enjoyed a bit more sentimentality and emotion, the memoir was generally well received by the Queer Book Nerd’s Book Club I host.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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