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Oh the Glory of It All


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About the Author

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 was born in San Francisco in 1970 and now lives with his wife, Daphne Beal, and his son, Owen.


Here's something I've realized: if my son shows any hint of writing talent, I'm going to be damn careful whenever he's in the room. We live in a dangerous era. Not too long ago, the average person could go around making mistakes, saying stupid things and being occasionally horrible, and who would know? Those days are over. Now, the Internet is cluttered with tell-all blogs by every schlub who's mastered the hunt and peck method. And bookstores are packed with memoirs by people who haven't even done anything to merit a measly entry in Who's Who (and I include myself in that category). Maybe this will inspire a new morality-the morality of dread. The world will be frightened into acting nice for fear of being humiliated in print. Yeah, probably not. In any case, these notions struck me while reading Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey-a strange, fascinating, complicated and self-involved memoir about the author's boyhood among San Francisco's social elite. The book contains perhaps the most evil parental figure since Joan Crawford. That woman is named Dede, the wicked stepmother of the tale. Dede allegedly stole Wilsey's father from his mom, banned afternoon TV, monitored Wilsey's phone calls, played endless mind games, told Wilsey to change his favorite color from red, and on and on. I'm not sure which Dede will find more disturbing-her foibles being laid bare or the fact that Wilsey admits to masturbating to her photo and smelling her underwear. Dede is joined by Wilsey's equally intriguing biological parents. There's his mother, a drama queen who once dated Frank Sinatra, held salons, hosted a talk show, asked Wilsey to commit suicide with her and became a globe-trotting peace activist. And then there's his father, a dairy-business millionaire, helicopter pilot and lothario. These three characters form the heart of the book. Wilsey also discusses his pot-steeped days at various boarding schools, including a bizarre cultlike institution in Italy that encouraged lots of weeping and hugging. But the parts about the family are the book's strongest. It's a startlingly honest tale. I can't imagine he left out a single humiliating detail, unless he had improper relations with his goldfish. Sometimes Wilsey comes off as a sympathetic figure, someone you'd like in the cubicle next to yours. But almost as often, he's completely malevolent-he made his roommate cry by sabotaging the poor guy's top bunk so that it collapsed onto the floor. And yet, when you begin to think of the book as just the tale of a poor-little-rich-boy, there's one thing that saves it: the writing, which is vivid, detailed, deep and filled with fresh metaphors. So if my son does end up lambasting me in his memoir, I hope he does it with as much style as Wilsey. Agent, David McCormick. (May 23) A.J. Jacobs is an editor at large at Esquire and the author of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (S&S). Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Wilsey (founding editor, McSweeney's) started life with a bang. The child of stars of San Francisco's social scene, he grew up watching his parents entertain the likes of Gloria Steinem, Eldridge Cleaver, and Shirley Temple. His mother was a blond bombshell, an author, and a society-page regular. His father, whose sole job, Wilsey believed, was to please his wife, would take Wilsey to school in a helicopter and buy him his first copy of Playboy when he began asking about sex at age nine. Then his parents divorced, and Dad ran off with Mom's best friend. From that point on, things were never the same. After a brief flirtation with suicide, his mother headed off on a global quest for world peace, introducing Wilsey along the way to such historical figures as Indira Gandhi, Helmut Kohl, Menachem Begin-and even the Pope. 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. Recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/05.]-Ronald Ray Ratliff, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"The cliche 'truth is stranger than fiction' may well have been coined to describe Sean Wilsey's wild, wise, and whip-smart memoir." --Elle"[An] irreverent and remarkably candid memoir about growing up in wealthy eighties San Francisco . . . rollicking, ruthless . . . ultimately generous-hearted." --Vogue"A vivid mix of brio, self-awareness and sophistication . . . writing well is indeed the best revenge." --The New York Times Book ReviewSean 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. --Armistead MaupinExuberant, 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. --George Saunders[A] startlingly honest tale.... the writing is vivid, detailed, deep, and filled with fresh metaphors. --Publishers WeeklyHonest to a fault, richly veined with indelible images: a monumental piece of work. --Kirkus Reviews

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