"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.
mother (one of the thinly veiled characters in Armistead Maupin's
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
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 this memoir but it
is a defining part and a continuous theme throughout. She is portrayed in a less than flattering light - making
the step-mothers of fairy tales look positively nurturing by comparison. At the time
it was published in hardcover last year, Dede was riding high, anticipating the imminent opening of the...
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...