BookBrowse Reviews Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

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Small Fry

by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs X
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Meara Conner
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An intimate look at the complicated relationship between a daughter constantly seeking approval and her world-famous father.

Small Fry is the debut memoir from Lisa Brennan-Jobs, long-time journalist and writer, and oldest daughter of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs. Small Fry is many things; a vivid portrait of California in the eighties and nineties; a heart-wrenching look at the difficulties of growing up with self-involved, unequipped parents and a classic coming-of-age tale. However, despite the instant draw of the Jobs name, this is not Steve Jobs' story; his rise to the forefront of the global technological field is a relatively unimportant piece of a book that is unequivocally the author's story. Though the memoir follows Brennan-Jobs all the way through her final meetings with her father, the account of her highly unconventional childhood is what makes this novel. Through the lens of Brennan-Jobs' ever-evolving relationship with her parents, she explores the responsibilities of parent to child and vice versa, and whether parental love can exist outside its typical definitions.

Brennan-Jobs begins her memoir with a usual experience for her and her mother, Chrisann Brennan. Struggling to make ends meet while confronted with the excessive wealth of her daughter's distant father, Steve Jobs, the two, desperate to build a livable home, arrive at Jobs' house unannounced to claim a couch that Jobs promised to give them months ago. This seemingly simple mission quickly dissolves into a furniture heist that is not only entertaining, but also sadly reflective of the relationship between father and daughter. Jobs consistently makes (emotional and literal) promises to his daughter that he does not or cannot back up. He craves his daughter's constant attention, but refuses to provide her with the same; rather, his capricious affection is used as an emotional tool to force Brennan-Jobs into falling in line with his demands. These demands range from the small, such as no eating meat in his presence, to the large, such as ending contact between her and her mother (who, until that point, had been her primary custodial parent all her life) for six months. Though some of Jobs' choices as a parent could be viewed as reprehensible, Brennan-Jobs comes to terms with the fact that despite his actions, her father did love her, even if it was not displayed in typical ways. The reader is angered by Jobs' bizarre choices, yet the author's detailed portrayal of his charm and magnetism enthralls the audience just as it did his daughter. This ability to carefully portray the delicate balance between Jobs' love for his daughter and his failings as a father is part of what makes Small Fry so captivating.

Similarly, Brennan-Jobs' portrayal of her relationship with her sometimes mentally-unstable mother, Chrisann, is just as compelling. While Jobs was a largely enigmatic presence in his daughter's childhood, Chrisann and her daughter have an almost claustrophobic relationship. Brennan-Jobs is forced to balance her desire to have a "normal" life (e.g. one in which she is financially secure) with her love for her mother. However, the pressures placed on both in order for this to happen result in Brennan-Jobs choosing to live with her father and agreeing to his condition that she cannot see Chrisann. Brennan-Jobs feels as though she is shirking her responsibility to her mother, but ultimately is forced to recognize that the move is best for both of them.

The only place in which the memoir falls short is in its pacing. Most of the emotional core of the story takes place when Brennan-Jobs is a young child. Through her teenaged years up to her entrance into college and subsequent semi-estrangement from her father, the book takes on a somewhat repetitive feel in which she continually reaches out to her father, is sometimes accepted, only to be later rebuffed. Though the illustration of this cycle is important because it exemplifies how emotional abuse can become commonplace, it does slow the book's momentum.

Small Fry is a touching portrait of the complicated relationship of parent to child, and an exploration of whether familial love can survive the emotional trauma created within it.

Reviewed by Meara Conner

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2018, and has been updated for the August 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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