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Esquire
Wednesday, May 25th, 2005


 

Oh the Glory of It All

by Sean Wilsey

At Least He Was Rich

A review by Anna Godbersen

Memoirs, as we all know, are sad-childhood territory, and Sean Wilsey's Oh the Glory of It All is no exception. Happily, though, Wilsey's was a glamorous kind of sad childhood, set in the society San Francisco of the '70s and '80s, colored by two wealthy, eccentric parents, and embellished by one truly evil stepmother. Wilsey recalls the brief, charmed years when his mother (an Oklahoma preacher's daughter-turned-SF party girl) and father (a butter magnate/helicopter enthusiast) still lived together in Russian Hill; he begins his story, "in the beginning we were happy to excess." Things turn sour around age ten, when his father leaves for his mother's former friend Dede, a sexy, shrewish younger woman whose ex-husband is soon remarried to Danielle Steele. Mom goes on to demand that young Sean enter a suicide pact with her, before transforming herself into a New Agey "ambassador without portfolio," traveling the world to meet with foreign leaders and talk peace. (Wilsey becomes her reluctant prop in this venture.) Stepmother Dede, meanwhile, tortures and alienates and unwittingly turns our hero on, until the family determines that he is floundering and should be sent away. A series of prep schools, an interest in skateboarding, and a few awkward sexual encounters follow, before Cinderella is saved by literature and a lovely and talented girl from the New Yorker typing pool.

Oh the Glory of It All is, as the title suggests, a stuffed, hyper book, its wounds still raw and glittering. There is an anything-goes quality here: Wilsey is over-fond of movie analogies (in the early days, they are the Royal Tenenbaums; post-divorce, his mother is Norma Desmond), and his reliance on italics and exclamation points loses its oomph somewhere shy of the final page. But it is surely unsporting to make these complaints of a book so bursting with excitement, hurt, and a desire to be loved.


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