Brennan-Jobs is a deeply gifted writer. Before I read her book, I wondered if it had been ghostwritten, like many such books. But from the striking opening — in which Lisa is drifting around her father’s house when he is dying of cancer, snubbed by everyone and pinching trifles from different rooms to appease her sense of exclusion — it is clear that this is a work of uncanny intimacy. Her inner landscape is depicted in such exquisitely granular detail that it feels as if no one else could possibly have written it. Indeed, it has that defining aspect of a literary work: the stamp of a singular sensibility. In the fallen world of kiss-and-tell celebrity memoirs, this may be the most beautiful, literary and devastating one ever written.
The sum of such memories might have been maudlin, but Brennan-Jobs is rescued by unsentimental honesty, wry humour and literary grace. Her description of growing up strung between separated parents, who struggled to cope within their personal limitations, would be powerful on its own merits. That one was the gigantic figure of Jobs makes it compulsive, with an opening line to better most novels: “Three months before he died, I began to steal things from my father’s house.”
Small Fry isn’t about eliciting sympathy or seeking revenge. Instead she tries to get to the bottom of a relationship mired in awkwardness and unpredictability. In exposing her father’s more unpleasant traits, her language betrays her trepidation. Not given to drama or sentimentality, it is sparse though precise. The more shocking the anecdote, the more economical her description, though her wounds are clear...As well aschronicling her early life, it is a lesson in how our identity and self-esteem are moulded by those charged with the task of raising us. Rejection and frustration are running themes.
Small Fry is Lisa’s memoir. It is a remarkable book, much more than the lurid celebrity tell-all it might have become in a less able writer’s hands. Jobs, who began to play an active role in his daughter’s life when she was eight, features prominently, as do his sister and wife, who last month said in a statement that the book “differs dramatically from our memories of those times”. Others have defended the memoir’s accuracy.
Read "Small Fry" one way and you'll find the account of a reluctant, sometimes outright hostile, mercurial father whose daughter is constantly reaching after the tiniest crumbs of love and attention. Read it another way, with Lisa and not Steve as the central character, and you'll find the story of an observant child coming of age and trying to make sense of the people around her, vying for what she views as a "normal" family and not yet knowing that for most of us, no such thing exists
There are celebrities with command over our collective imagination, and then there is Steve Jobs. Seven years after his death, his legacy is probably in your pocket. With her artful memoir, Small Fry (Grove), his daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, has written a book that upends expectations, delivering a masterly Silicon Valley gothic.