(This is a review of the audiobook. Hey, I’m a single parent + business owner + writer-human, I “read” however I can! Also, the narrator, Eileen Stevens, was excellent. I forgot this was narrated by an actor and got the intimate feeling I do when certain beloved authors narrate their own work.)
I wanted to like Small Fry.
Here are the reasons I wanted to like the memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs:
– I’m writing a memoir, so I’m on a memoir kick. I’m hungry for good works to emulate.
– Born just two years before Brennan-Jobs, I grew up in the same era and navigated equally bizarre and traumatizing waters, also from a point of relative privilege, even if my father was not a millionaire.
– I admire that she is “taking back her narrative” and telling truth to power and all that, even though it’s upsetting to family members.
– She is a beautiful writer. As the book opened, I dove into her glorious prose, reveling in her confessions of stealing small personal hygiene items from the house of her father, Steve Jobs, as he was home on hospice.
Sadly, that trusting dive became a freefall. I wondered if a parachute would open or a sea bottom would appear. The scenery was beautiful, but hours and hours of that beauty passed, and I seemed to just be floating with un-curated, similar scenes going by me, like I’d gotten on the Small World ride at Disneyland and it never ended. “This is so neat,” became, “How long has it been,” which transformed into, “There have to be emergency exits on this thing, right?”
Here’s the thing. There’s a lot more that goes into a good memoir than recalling the minute detail of many scenes in your life and describing them beautifully. The audio version of Small Fry is like a 12-hour character study.
As a thoughtful memoir author, it’s not fair to expect your reader to wander unaided around your life. I want a docent. It’s my first time here. I need context, suspense, storytelling! For example, the first we learn of the controversy over Brennan-Jobs’ schooling is when we find out she was accepted to a fancy private school. Only then does she go back and explain that she’d been having a tutor, not doing her homework, been assessed to have an IQ that had fallen, and gone on a trial visit to said elite academy. Yawwwn.
In contrast, Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Lit by Mary Karr zoom into the specific, gorgeous details of the moment while giving the reader something to fear and hope for, a reason to start the next chapter and discover how it all turns out.
Listening to this book is like watching a brilliant gymnast practice. And practice. And practice. I kept wondering, “When will we get to the nationals? When will I get to see this finely tuned instrument of your writing put to a task so impossible that you might not succeed?” I want to root for you, dammit!
This makes me wonder where her editors were? And the readers who’ve given it an average of 4.5 stars on Audible. I can only guess that they were all a bit star struck and honored to see this personal side of Jobs. He was just like so many Gen Xers’ flawed, weird, absent, sexually inappropriate dads. In this way, I consider it a valuable original source as it gives a different, intimate perspective on a cultural icon. But it is, sadly, not a story.
Part of the reason it’s hard to write this is that I’ve written this book! Well, not this one. But one with beautiful prose (at least to me) that never really formed into anything more. But I’m continually learning to do better. I hope Brennan-Jobs will too. It’s easier to acquire an understanding of structure and plot and to hire a good editor than it is to develop the eye and language with which Brennan-Jobs is gifted.
At some point in the book, she explains that “small fry” refers to fish that are so small as to be thrown back in the water when caught by fishers. While that accurately describes this work, I will return to these waters. It was hard making it through this one, but I would welcome the chance to read Lisa Brennan-Jobs as a more mature author.