Title: Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father
Author: Alysia Abbott
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: 6-3-2013
Genre: Nonfiction, adult, LGBTQ
After his wife dies in a car accident, bisexual writer and activist Steve Abbott moves with his two-year-old daughter to San Francisco. There they discover a city in the midst of revolution, bustling with gay men in search of liberation—few of whom are raising a child.
Steve throws himself into San Francisco’s vibrant cultural scene. He takes Alysia to raucous parties, pushes her in front of the microphone at poetry readings, and introduces her to a world of artists, thinkers, and writers. But the pair live like nomads, moving from apartment to apartment, with a revolving cast of roommates and little structure. As a child Alysia views her father as a loving playmate who can transform the ordinary into magic, but as she gets older Alysia wants more than anything to fit in. The world, she learns, is hostile to difference.
In Alysia’s teens, Steve’s friends—several of whom she has befriended—fall ill as AIDS starts its rampage through their community. While Alysia is studying in New York and then in France, her father tells her it’s time to come home; he’s sick with AIDS. Alysia must choose whether to take on the responsibility of caring for her father or continue the independent life she has worked so hard to create.
This book was fantastic!! I put it on my schedule months and months ago, so when it came time to actually start reading it, I was a little hesitant. I didn’t really remember what had turned me onto it in the first place and I just wasn’t that interested anymore. But thank god I decided to push through…it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read this month!
Fairyland takes place almost exclusively in 1970s-1990s San Francisco, covering the time before, during, and after the AIDS epidemic. It’s a memoir written by a girl who was raised in a single-parent household by her gay father, who was a huge part of the artistic San Francisco LGBT scene and eventually contracted AIDS and died. The book both celebrates her father and also comes clean about the not-so-great side of what it was really like to live with a gay parent during that time period, and to watch somebody you love die from a horrible disease. A very honest account of their life together, Alysia pieces together the book from both her own memories and intimate diary entries written by her father.
Fairyland made me realize how little I really knew about AIDS before I read this book. Like Alysia mentions at the end, the AIDS epidemic was a huge part of American history (half of the gay population in San Francisco died from it!), yet it often gets no coverage in U.S. history classes and is instead taught only in gay culture courses, people often preferring to glaze over the horror than to truly dig deep into this awful time period and discuss the horrors at play — both the disease itself and the mentality surrounding it.
But this book is not merely a sad account of a disastrous disease. Many of Alysia’s stories take place in a happier time, showcasing the strong and palpable bond between herself and her father. Although her father wasn’t the greatest person…neither was Alysia at times. She does an amazing job of pulling the curtain back and being honest about both her father’s faults and her own. Mistakes are made — copiously — by both parties. But at the end of the day, the love between them is so real and unconditional. This book is filled to the brim with love.
I highly recommend Fairyland to everybody who is even remotely interested in LGBT culture. This book was hugely eye-opening, educational, and also at the same time extremely readable and hard to put down. I adored this book and it’s probably the best piece of nonfiction I’ve ever read.