Small Fry (Brennan-Jobs)

Small Fry:  A Memoir
Lisa Brennan-Jobs, 2018
400 pp.

 A frank, smart and captivating memoir by the daughter of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents—artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs—Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley.

When she was young, Lisa’s father was a mythical figure who was rarely present in her life. As she grew older, her father took an interest in her, ushering her into a new world of mansions, vacations, and private schools.

His attention was thrilling, but he could also be cold, critical and unpredictable. When her relationship with her mother grew strained in high school, Lisa decided to move in with her father, hoping he’d become the parent she’d always wanted him to be.

Small Fry is Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s poignant story of childhood and growing up.

Scrappy, wise, and funny, young Lisa is an unforgettable guide, marveling at the particular magic of growing up in this family, in this place and time, while grappling with her feelings of illegitimacy and shame.

Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling story by an insightful new literary voice. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth— May 17, 1978
Where—Portland, Oregon, USA
Education—B.A., Harvard University
Currently—lives in Brooklyn, New York City, New York

Lisa Nicole Brennan-Jobs is the daughter of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and artist Chrisann Brennan. She has worked as a journalist and magazine writer and, in 2018, published her memoir, Small Fry, the story of her childhood and coming-of-age in Silicon Valley in the 1970s and 80s.

Brennan-Jobs has been depicted in a number of films and biographies of Steve Jobs, including three biopics—Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999, made for TV), Jobs (2013, with Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs ), and Steve Jobs (2015, based on Walter Isaacson's bestselling biography). A major character in her aunt Mona Simpson's novel A Regular Guy (1998) is based on her.

Birth and the Apple Lisa
Brennan-Jobs was born in 1978 on Robert Friedland's All One Farm commune outside of Portland, Oregon. Her mother, Chrisann Brennan, and her father, Steve Jobs, first met in high school in 1972 and had an on-off relationship for the next five years.

In 1977, after Jobs had co-founded Apple Inc., he and Brennan moved into a house with a friend near the company's office in Cupertino, California, where they all worked. It was during this period that Brennan became pregnant with Lisa.

Jobs, however, denied responsibility for the pregnancy, and Brennan ended the relationship, walking out of their shared home. She supported herself by cleaning houses and later moved to the Portland commune where Lisa was born: Jobs was not present at the birth.

Robert Friedland, the farm's owner and a friend of Jobs' from Reed College, called Jobs, persuading him to drive up to see the baby, and three days later Jobs appeared. Brennan and Jobs chose the name Lisa.

Jobs also named the computer project he was working on—the Apple Lisa—for his new daughter. Shortly after, however, he denied paternity, claiming the name "Apple Lisa" was devised by his team—as an acronym for "Local Integrated Systems Architecture." (It wasn't until decades later that Jobs admitted the computer was "obviously" named for his daughter.")

Jobs continued to deny he was Lisa's father—even after a DNA test established his paternity within a 94% probability. Nonetheless, the resolution of a legal case required him to provide Brennan with $385 per month and to reimburse the state for the money she had received from welfare.

After Apple went public and Jobs became a multimillionaire, he increased the payment to $500 a month.

When Lisa was nine, Jobs acknowledged his fatherhood and worked at reconciliation, legally altering Lisa's birth certificate—at her request—from Brennan to Brennan-Jobs. Crissan Brennan credits the change in Jobs to author Mona Simpson, Jobs' newly found biological sister, who worked to repair the relationship between father and daughter.

According to Fortune magazine, Jobs left Lisa a multimillion-dollar inheritance.

Education and career
Brennan-Jobs lived with her mother until sometime in high school; then she moved in with her father, attending Palo Alto High. She received her B.A. from Harvard University, where she wrote for the Harvard Crimson. After graduation in 2000, Brennan-Jobs worked in finance in the UK (she had spent a year abroad studying at King's College-London) and Italy; she later shifted to design.

Eventually, Brennan-Jobs turned to writing and moved to New York, where she freelanced for magazines and literary journals. She has written for Southwest Review, Massachusetts Review, Harvard Advocate, Spiked, Vogue, and Oprah Magazine.

In 2018, Brennan-Jobs published her memoir, Small Fry, to positive reviews, including the New York Times Book Review, which called her a "deeply gifted writer." The book details her childhood and complex, often difficult, relationship with her father.

Personal life
Brennan-Jobs resides in Brooklyn, New York City, with her husband, their son, and her two stepdaughters. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/18/2018.)

Book Reviews
Entrancing.… Brennan-Jobs is a deeply gifted writer.… Her inner landscape is depicted in such exquisitely granular detail that it feels as if no one else could have possibly written it. Indeed, it has that defining aspect of a literary work: the stamp of a singular sensibility.… Beautiful, literary, and devastating.
Melanie Thernstro - New York Times Book Review

It’s gratifying to see [Ms. Brennan-Jobs] assert her authority as the owner of her narrative. Writing with enlightened panache and dry humor, she’s as keen a witness to the ambience of the Bay Area in the 1980’s and 1990’s …as she is to the behavior of the adults around her.… Never having felt safe in any of her father’s houses, [she] has built her own house in memoir form, a repository of her love and anger and mourning.… It’s alive in all the rough edges of its feelings, and it’s home.
Wall Street Journal

[The] story of a girl growing up in 1980s and ’90s California trying to fit into two very different families and not belonging in either. It’s the story of her single mother trying to keep it together and often not succeeding. It’s the story of a family that is as imperfect as every family, things complicated by wealth, fame and, in the end, illness and death.
Associated Press

An intimate, richly drawn portrait.… Small Fry is a memoir of uncommon grace, maturity, and spare elegance.… The reader of this exquisite memoir is left with a loving, forgiving remembrance and the lasting impression of a resilient, kindhearted and wise woman who is at peace with her past.
San Francisco Chronicle

Mesmerizing, discomfiting reading.… [Small Fry is] a book of no small literary skill.
New Yorker

Extraordinary.… An aching, exquisitely told story of a young woman’s quest for belonging and love.

Revelatory.… Her exquisitely written prose allows Brennan-Jobs to—painfully, complexly, heroically—reclaim her own story.
Entertainment Weekly

A masterly Silicon Valley gothic.… The bohemian landscape she captures will be virtually unrecognizable to anyone who equates this slice of Northern California with Teslas and tiger moms.… Of the book’s myriad achievements, the greatest might be making [this] story her own.

(Starred review) Bringing the reader into the heart of the child who admired Jobs’s genius, craved his love, and feared his unpredictability, Brennan-Jobs writes lucidly of happy times… [and] loneliness.… [A] sincere and disquieting portrait.
Publishers Weekly

[Lisa's father,] Steve Jobs, [was] barely there until he decided to swoop in to show her the wealthy world of private schools and big vacations. But it wasn't easy. A singular life and California in the Seventies and Eighties.
Library Journal

(Starred review) Bennan-Jobs skillfully relays her past without judgement… [and] never turns maudlin or gossipy.… [An ]authentic story of growing up in two very different environments, neither of which felt quite like home.

(Starred review) An epic, sharp coming-of-age story…. In a lesser writer's hands, the narrative could have devolved into literary revenge. Instead, Brennan-Jobs offers [an] exquisitely rendered story of family, love, and identity.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for SMALL FRY … then take off on your own:

1. How does Steve Jobs come across in his daughter's memoir? What were your expectations of him before you read Small Fry? Were they altered or confirmed after having finished the book?

2. When she was only a little girl, Jobs told his daughter that he hadn't named the Apple Lisa computer after her. As an adult, she writes that he wasn't being cruel but teaching her a lesson—"not to ride on his coattails." What is your take on that episode? Was it a good lesson? How do you think young Lisa might have felt that at the time it took place, as opposed to looking back 30-some years later with the cushion of hindsight? What other incidents does the author point to as examples of Steve Jobs' life lessons?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: The author wants readers to forgive her father—as she herself has. Is it easy for you to do so, to put aside his seeming cruelty? She herself wonders whether she has conveyed his true nature: "Have I failed in fully representing the dearness and the pleasure …of being with him when he was in good form?" What do you think?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: What are the moments in the memoir that capture Jobs when he was in "good form"? Consider the time he showed up unexpectedly in Japan, pulled her out of school, and talked with her about the nature of God and consciousness. "I was afraid of him and, at the same time, I felt a quaking, electric love," she writes. Does that description of Jobs capture his charisma, his "true nature," or warmth?

5. How does Brennan-Jobs portray her mother, Chrisann Brennan? Why did Lisa leave her mother's home to live with her father? How would you have fared as a child or teen under either parent?

6. Once Lisa moved in with him, her father forbade her to see her mother for six months. He objected to her school extracurricular activities, and accused her of not "succeeding as a member of this family." She needed to be around more, he told her, "to put in the time." What do you think of Jobs' criticism?

7. How does Brennan-Jobs herself come across in her memoir? How would you describe her? Do you see her as traumatized? As resilient? As both?

8. What do you think of the neighbors who moved Lisa out of her father's house into their house—and even paid for her to finish her college degree? Were they right to interfere?

9. All of the people Brennan-Jobs writes about in this book are still alive except Steve Jobs, of course. Do some research to find out their various reactions to Small Fry. What do you think, overall, of the author's presentation of her family? What was her motive to write this book? Do you see it as a standard celebrity "tell-all" story? Is it vengeful? Is it putting the record straight? Is it a working out of the author's own identity? How do you see Lisa Brennan-Job's memoir?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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