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 deYoung Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, for which she had raised substantial funds. As one San Francisco based blogger puts it, "She was probably expecting to be the Queen of All She Surveys ....but this book is a great, classic act of revenge on her. It's reminiscent of the ending of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" when all of Paris Society have read the evil letters and shun the old heroine."
Sean Wilsey's writing has appeared in The London Review of Books, The Los Angeles Times, and McSweeney's Quarterly, where he is the editor at large. Before going to McSweeney's he worked as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker, a fact checker at Ladies' Home Journal, a letters correspondent at Newsweek, and an apprentice gondolier in Venice, Italy. He lives in New York with his wife, Daphne Beal, and his son, Owen.
This article is from the May 3, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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