Books

‘Small Fry,’ the Story of Silicon Valley’s Poor Little Rich Girl

Although he certainly never molested Lisa, the atmosphere she describes feels hostile and dangerous. One wonders whether his unconventional behavior was titillating or whether he was just so socially tone-deaf that he didn’t see anything wrong with it. In one disturbing scene, he made out with his wife in front of Lisa, theatrically groaning with lust, pawing at Laurene’s breasts and reaching under her skirt. When Lisa attempted to leave, he admonished her, “This is a family moment. You need to make more of an effort to be part of this family.”

Jobs was quick to diminish the accomplishments of others — especially those who had enjoyed more privilege than he had. He was particularly dismissive of formal education. This is surely why Lisa was so determined to go to Harvard. Once she was accepted (a scene in the admissions office makes it fairly clear that her illustrious father played a greater role in that decision than her grades, test scores, or debate team trophy), Jobs paid through her junior year, then stopped. Lisa was forced to beg for financial aid (as you can imagine, given her father’s net worth, there was none to be had), before kind neighbors agreed to pay for her. Many years later, spurred on by a chastising letter from Chrisann, Jobs paid them back.

Whether it’s due to a sort of schadenfreude or our pleasure in watching the great fall from glory, Small Fry is irresistible. After all, Jobs remains such an iconic, yet enigmatic, symbol of technology and entrepreneurship. The book confirms our hopes that such a great man of business must have been deficient in other areas. Yet, even as Brennan-Jobs captures the perceptions and logic of her younger self, she eschews the resentment her readers feel on her behalf. Visiting him a month before his death, she listens to his insistent apologies; and she regrets, almost philosophically, that they never had the friendship they might have had.

Brennan-Jobs has such a forgiving attitude that you can’t help but wonder if — independent, successful and now 40 years old — she still maintains the misplaced adoration for her father she had as a child. Meanwhile, her father’s neglect and abuses are spelled out in unflinching detail in Small Fry. In fact, her stepmother, half-siblings, and aunt have publicly stated that the book “differs dramatically from our memories of those times,” and that “the portrayal of Steve is not the husband and father we knew.”

The New York Times recently published a profile of Brennan-Jobs. In it, she expressed concern that Small Fry might not present a fair picture of her father. “Have I failed in fully representing the dearness and the pleasure? The dearness of my father, and the outrageous pleasure of being with him when he was in good form?”

If that was indeed her goal, then she failed miserably. After reading Small Fry, you may think of many new ways to describe Steve Jobs. But the words “dearness” and “pleasure” won’t be among them.

However, if writing a powerful and truly compelling memoir of a most unusual upbringing — that happens to shine new light on a public figure — was her goal, Brennan-Jobs succeeds splendidly.

 

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