The daughter of respected jazz pianist Joe Albany debuts with a memoir of her young world, bracketed by a father's addiction and a mother’s abandonment.
The unnerving text primarily chronicles the nine years following 1962, when heroin-addicted Joe and his equally drug-dependent third wife had a baby girl and named her Amy Jo, after two of Little Women’s heroines. Filtered through a child's eyes, the author’s memories of those years in southern California include not just the dangerous shards to be expected, but also fragments of happiness and expectancy set against a backdrop of alternating neglect and loyalty. Albany’s mother, who left when she was five, is almost always loaded on Dilaudid. Her father, on the other hand, in his loving, feckless way, made her the center of his unstable universe; he hugged her, brought her to work, and protected her fiercely . . . when he wasn't in rehab or jail. “Trying to look out for yourself at all of six years old can be a brain-twisting experience,” writes Albany, and “joy . . . is strictly a luxury item.” Still, she unsentimentally captures the offbeat, fleeting pleasures: getting the television out of hock, taking trips to the Italian market with Dad, or catching a nap behind the bar at one of his late-night gigs. Circumstances guaranteed that Amy Jo would meet plenty of unsavory characters (the lecher who wanted her to check out his magic gizmo, the uncle who introduced her to incest), but also that she could lose herself in the music that surrounded her. Her prose resembles the shimmering complexity of bop, with its feeling of tight yet improvisational dartings through memory. From the slag heap of the junkie lifestyle, she manages to spin literary gold.
A vibrant testimony to survival founded on the author’s childhood philosophy: “find love in some form, even when it appear[s] to be absent.”