Summary and book reviews of Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey

Oh The Glory Of It All

By Sean Wilsey

Oh The Glory Of It All
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  • Hardcover: May 2005,
    480 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2006,
    496 pages.

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Book Summary

"In the beginning we were happy. And we were always excessive. So in the beginning we were happy to excess." With these opening lines Sean Wilsey takes us on an exhilarating tour of life in the strangest, wealthiest, and most grandiose of families.

Sean's blond-bombshell mother (one of the thinly veiled characters in Armistead Maupin's bestselling Tales of the City) is a 1980s society-page staple, regularly entertaining Black Panthers and movie stars in her marble and glass penthouse, "eight hundred feet in the air above San Francisco; an apartment at the top of a building at the top of a hill: full of light, full of voices, full of windows full of water and bridges and hills." His enigmatic father uses a jet helicopter to drop Sean off at the video arcade and lectures his son on proper hygiene in public restrooms, "You should wash your hands first, before you use the urinal. Not after. Your penis isn't dirty. But your hands are."

When Sean, "the kind of child who sings songs to sick flowers," turns nine years old, his father divorces his mother and marries her best friend. Sean's life blows apart. His mother first invites him to commit suicide with her, then has a "vision" of salvation that requires packing her Louis Vuitton luggage and traveling the globe, a retinue of multiracial children in tow. Her goal: peace on earth (and a Nobel Prize). Sean meets Indira Gandhi, Helmut Kohl, Menachem Begin, and the pope, hoping each one might come back to San Francisco and persuade his father to rejoin the family. Instead, Sean is pushed out of San Francisco and sent spiraling through five high schools, till he finally lands at an unorthodox reform school cum "therapeutic community," in Italy.

With its multiplicity of settings and kaleidoscopic mix of preoccupations-sex, Russia, jet helicopters, seismic upheaval, boarding schools, Middle Earth, skinheads, home improvement, suicide, skateboarding, Sovietology, public transportation, massage, Christian fundamentalism, dogs, Texas, global thermonuclear war, truth, evil, masturbation, hope, Bethlehem, CT, eventual salvation (abridged list)—Oh the Glory of It All is memoir as bildungsroman as explosion.

Prologue: Excess!

Part One: Useless Emotion

One: Mom
Two: Divorce
Three: Dad
Four: Dad and Dede
Five: Dede
Six: Every Other Week
Seven: Peace
Eight: Dad's House


Part Two: Useless Education

Nine: St. Mark's
Ten: Woodhall
Eleven: Skateboarding
Twelve: Sex
Thirteen: Cascade


Part Three: Repetition
Fourteen: Destruction
Fifteen: Corruption
Sixteen: Redemption


Part Four: Resolution
Seventeen: Butter
Eighteen: Scraped Over Too Much Bread



Prologue
EXCESS!

IN THE BEGINNING we were happy. And we were always excessive. So in the beginning we were happy to excess.

WE WERE MOM and Dad and I—three palindromes!—and we lived eight hundred feet in the air above San Francisco; an apartment at the top of a building at the top of a hill: full...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

I have zero interest in reading the gossip columns so the idea of sitting down with an almost 500 page memoir that I thought was going to be about one man's childhood growing up in "high-society" San Francisco held little appeal, but I'd just finished my previous audio book, so popped the first CD of the audio version that the publisher had so presciently sent a few days before into the car stereo - and was sucked in within minutes. This is a very difficult book to describe and I can't do any better than refer you to the book jacket blurb above, which does as good a job as is possible of summarizing this diverse, lacerating and very funny memoir. As always, don't take my word for it - instead read a very substantial excerpt at BookBrowse (which I believe is exclusive to us) and decide for yourself.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (913 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

... in dire need of some industrial-strength editing, but at the same time, an epic performance: by turns heartfelt, absurd, self-indulgent, self-abasing, silly and genuinely moving.

Library Journal - Ronald Ray Ratliff

Wilsey details the trials of his particular brand of teenage life in an engrossing, entertaining, and often hilarious memoir that is sure to be in high demand.

Booklist - John Green

The story raises a lot of questions that never get answered, but maybe only because there's so much to tell--as Wilsey writes, he wants to capture "the glory of it all." Although this sprawling memoir could have withstood some cuts, Wilsey accomplishes that goal to a startling degree.

Kirkus Reviews

Only in his later years does the focus of Wilsey's self-lacerating style soften somewhat-he's not a writer you want to see mellow-but it's a small complaint. Honest to a fault, richly veined with indelible images: a monumental piece of work.

Author Blurb Armistead Maupin
Sean Wilsey's magnificent memoir spares no one but forgives almost everything; it's a kindly act of retribution that's sure to ring a bell with any adult survivor of parental narcissism. A bell, hell. Oh the Glory of It All becomes a veritable carillon of remembered pain, never once losing its wise and worldly sense of humor. I couldn't stop reading the damn thing.

Author Blurb George Saunders
Exuberant, honest, and unforgettable. Wilsey shows that great privilege doesn't guarantee bliss, but also doesn't preclude it. I'm glad he survived this odd/epic youth and emerged from it such a sane, generous, and funny narrator. My only regret is that he's not older than he is, since there would be more to read.

Reader Reviews
JudyL

Oh- The Glory of it All-Sean Wilsey
There is something so fundamentally off about this book. Yes it tells a scathing story about a hideously dysfunctional upbringing - but here it is at pg. 482 and I feel absolutely nothing except irritated. God knows this guy had a story to tell - ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

In the wake of the James Frey debacle any memoir that is remotely controversial has to be treated as something of a hot potato, especially one as hot as Wilsey's. His step-mother, uber-socialite Dede Wilsey, threatened legal action against his publisher (after excerpts had run in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle) in an attempt to stop publication of the book on the basis that there were more than 30 "actionably defamatory statements of fact ... which constitute libel per se" (and that was just in the excerpts!).  Penguin went ahead and published anyway, and I don't think there has been any more talk of legal action.

Sean's relationship with his step-mother is just one part of ...

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