three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
By: 
Sean Wilsey
user_rating: 
0

A-OhGloryFor a brief spell in the ‘80s, Sean Wilsey’s parents were the toast of San Francisco society. But while his mother, Pat Montandon, threw lavish parties and his father, Al Wilsey, expanded his real estate fortune, young Sean felt out of step with the high life. When his parents divorced, his mother became a crusader for peace on earth, and his new stepmother, Dede Wilsey, moved into their posh Russian Hill condo to cast a bleak shadow over Sean’s life. Sean rebelled by being ousted from a string of boarding schools until he was transformed at a school in the Tuscan countryside. He returned to the States to attend university, work for The New Yorker, and create this sometimes comic, often scathing portrait of the darker side of privilege.
Penguin. 482 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1594200513

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Wilsey’s portrait of a scheming stepmother is so deliriously searing and so convincing that it might prompt negligent parents to consider the probable downside of providing Junior with subject matter for the tell-everything autobiography." Francine Prose

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… Oh, the Glory of It All walks a dangerous line toward storytelling as expiation, but the book is too heartfelt, funny, and engaging to sink into self-obsession or sentimentality." John Freeman

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"It’s a sprawling kitchen sink of a memoir, stuffed to the gills with seemingly everything the author can remember about his youth and 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." Michiko Kakutani

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"The main problem is that Wilsey hews too closely to the McSweeney literary model: typographical tricks, hyper-fluency in pop culture and exuberantly high-pitched prose. All conspire against the emotional registers he so wants to express." Thomas Meaney

New York Observer 2 of 5 Stars
"… with Oh, the Glory of It All, a long, sloppy, aimless mess that buries its own bright beginnings, Sean Wilsey has squandered his only birthright, which is the biggest shame of all, because unless you’re a Hollywood legend or a former President, you only get to write your memoirs once." Adam Begley

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"It is the entertaining story of an interesting family, but it doesn’t reward us with any special insights into youth or fathers and sons or the social Darwinism that seems to rule the world of the well-to-do, the way it might have. It is but one well-argued case from the backload of grievances yet to be heard about messed-up upbringings." Oscar Villalon

Critical Summary

For his first book, Wilsey, 34, an editor at McSweeney’s, seems committed to rise above the kind of chatter that Oh, The Glory of It All has prompted in his native San Francisco. Critics praise the author’s talent, particularly his ability to merge his childhood and adult emotions into a coherent, fluid voice. (Not surprisingly, they compared the memoir to McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius., 2000) The sharpest criticism comes for his portrayal of his stepmother. Even Wilsey admits he’s trading in clichés, yet most critics feel he fails to raise her above them. Since he displays a keen ability throughout the book to draw vivid, multi-dimensional characters, the gap in his betrayal of Dede is even more telling. In the end, there is a compelling, heartfelt story here, albeit one that might have been aided by a stronger editorial pen.