Small Fry: A Memoir
Living in Palo Alto in the 1980s, we often heard rumors that Steve had a daughter named Lisa for whom the computer was named. No one seemed to know whether this was a true story or an urban legend, and certainly none of us realized that Lisa and her mom lived among us -- going out for dinner to the Good Earth, shopping at Units, cruising down University Avenue. Meanwhile, especially after Steve and Laurene married and more kids came along, we often ran into them: getting dessert at Gelato Classico, buying gifts at Palo Alto Toy & Sport, even roller skating along Homer near Whole Foods. Whatever else we thought about Steve, he seemed like a devoted dad.
Except he wasn't.
Lots of people are raised by substandard parents. You don't get to choose your mom and dad. For many of us, recovery can take decades or maybe even never. But Lisa, to her unending credit, is able to tell a story that radiates affection despite describing neglect that borders on abuse. She walks us through her childhood and teen years with unstinting candor, including a number of anecdotes that highlight her own missteps.
The most affecting scenes are the mother-daughter stories. Chris doesn't seem like a candidate for Mom of the Year, as she leaves Lisa by herself as a young child, brings home a series of boyfriends, moves from house to house, and often loses her temper. But because we see her through Lisa's eyes, our takeaway is the shared adoration between mother and child, and we understand that for all her foibles, Chris fought to give her daughter the best possible life. And in many ways her efforts were stymied rather than supported by the fact that Steve overshadowed their lives, even during the years that he remained detached from them.
Lisa is an artist, and her writing is the verbal equivalent of a painting, every detail sharply rendered. For that reason alone, this book is worth a reader's attention. Years ago I read an autobiography written by a poet whose narrative resonated like a poem; Small Fry hits that same note and sustains it. If not for her famous father, her book probably would never have been published, and that would have been a loss to all of us.