"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.
Part One: Useless Emotion
Four: Dad and Dede
Six: Every Other Week
Eight: Dad's House
Part Two: Useless Education
Nine: St. Mark's
Part Three: Repetition
Part Four: Resolution
Eighteen: Scraped Over Too Much Bread
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 Ithree 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...
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 (913 words).
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
Sean's relationship with his step-mother is just one part of ...
If you liked Oh The Glory Of It All, try these:
'When you read his extraordinary memoir you don't laugh, then cry, then laugh again; you somehow experience these emotions all at once.'
Sedaris lifts the corner of ordinary life, revealing the absurdity teeming below its surface in another unforgettable collection from one of the wittiest and most original writers at work today.
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