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Oh the Glory of It All Paperback – April 25, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

"A memoir, at its heart, is written in order to figure out who you are," writes Sean Wilsey, and indeed, Oh the Glory of it All is compelling proof of his exhaustive personal quest. It's no surprise that as a kid in the '80s, Wilsey found similarities between his own life and his beloved Lord of the Rings and Star Wars--his journey was fraught with unnerving characters too.

Wilsey's father was a distant, wealthy man who used a helicopter when a moped would do and whose mandates included squeegeeing the stall after every shower. Much of Wilsey's youth was spent as subservient to, or rebelling against this imposing man. But the maternal figures in Wilsey's childhood were no less affecting. His mother, a San Francisco society butterfly turned globe-trotting peace promoter, seemed to behave only in extremes--either trying to convince young Sean to commit suicide with her, or arranging impromptu meetings with the Pope and Mikhail Gorbachev. And Dede, his demon of a stepmother, would have made the Brothers Grimm shiver.

As always with memoirs one must take expansive sections of recalled dialogue with a grain of salt, but Wilsey's short, unflinching sentences keep his outlandish story moving too quickly for much quibbling. In the end, Wilsey says, "It took the unlikely combination of the three of them--mother, father, stepmother--to make me who I am." It's a fairly basic conclusion after 479 pages of turning every stone, but it's also one that renders his story--more than shocking or glorious--human. --Brangien Davis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Wilsey's Eggersesque memoir of growing up rich and dysfunctional is dependent for effect on its deadpan, forthright tone of voice, underscoring the impact of his humorous, unsettled childhood. Brick performs this with flair, inhabiting that voice with ease. Born to a wealthy older father and San Franciscan socialite, Wilsey had a childhood that combined overwhelming privilege with an unusual family dynamic (his father divorced his mother and married her best friend). He mines his lonely childhood amid the lap of luxury for its absurdist comic potential, finding nuggets of humor in the wreckage of a fortunate yet empty upbringing. Brick underplays the comic and emotional undercurrents with poker-faced sophistication. His oft-hushed tones belie the comedy of situations; he renders lines like "Sean, I have hot flashes.... I just thought you'd want to know what's going on with your mother" with as little fuss as possible. Capturing Wilsey's knowing, self-mocking tone, Brick's performance of this confusing, bittersweet childhood is, like the book itself, just the right mixture of comic and tragic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; English Language edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036913
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By K. Guess on November 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The test of a great book is whether it stays with you, not just from the standpoint of recommending it to your friends, but also whether it changes the way you think. I could not get this book out of my mind for days after I finished it. This is the best book I've read in 2005.

Not only is this a fascinating commentary on how the rich and famous live, it's also heartrendingly honest, tragic, and laugh-out-loud funny. Sean's recollection of his trip to Russia on his mother's first "peace mission" is so funny it should be mandatory reading for creative writers. His honesty about his efforts to be the cool kid made me laugh and cry at the same time, particularly since I was the same age as Sean in the 1980s. I did not think less of Sean as he told of his prep school experiences and less-than-flattering behavior. On the contrary, the courage to write such a memoir generated my respect. Sean came through a terrible childhood where he was treated with less regard than the family dog, yet he still emerged a decent and thriving human being.

As for Dede Wilsey, who supposedly is threatening to sue Sean Wilsey, I believe every word about her in this book. The proof speaks for itself. For starters, she just donated $10 million to the De Young while her stepsons were left penniless after Al Wilsey's death. We reap what we sow. The world would be a better place if every wicked stepmother had a book written about her while she was still alive and kicking to read it. It's such great poetic justice.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Edward Aycock on June 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In my teens, I was enthralled by "Falcon Crest" and would have travelled across the continent in a moment to see that Victorian house; Sean Wilsey and his dad would play games where they'd fly over the house in his dad's helicopter. This and other details of Wilsey's younger years make up the captivating first third of this memoir. I haven't flown through non-fiction this quickly since ... well, ever. The story of his parent's marriage and nasty divorce is as dishy as anything you'd ever see on an 80's prime time soap and stepmother Dede Wilsey (who threatened to sue to block publication of the book, but either changed her mind or was unsuccessful- ha, take that Dede!!!) is the nastiest character to come along, real or imagined in years.

Wilsey made me feel for him and all that he went through, partly because I am a sucker for survivors of emotional abuse and also because it was nice to read a memoir from somebody my age (we are a year apart) where I could relate to the era he was referring to.

The book unfortunately begins to lag as Wilsey chronicles being shuttled from school to school and his rebellion against his parents. As interesting as this is, this part book should have been cut down to half its size; after reading about all the people in the schools and every last detail of a skateboarding routine, the type started to blur on the page. And then we get to Amity which Wilsey describes lovingly? ironically?

To me, Amity just seemed another school for troubled rich kids that bore no resemeblance to the reality many people face. Most juvies don't go to opulent settings in Italy to deal with their problems.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By J. Jorgensen on May 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Entertaining, moving and strong. To me, a memoir's strength rests in its conclusion. And this story concludes elegantly and powerfully. Once you're there, the energy of the preceding 450 pages fold back on themselves like a wave breaking on the beach. If you're prospecting for the much publicized scandal and dirt in here, you'll find it. But if that's your sole motivation for reading this, sadly, you'll miss the point. I've read many memoirs and this one was a highlight in the pile. Glorious!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lauren E. Bacon on January 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Before picking up a copy of this book, I had read reviews that focused on the author's family's status and privilege -- as well as the "tell-all memoir" stuff -- and so I came to the book with the expectation that I would have at least some degree of difficulty relating to it. But in fact I found that I identified so strongly with Wilsey's experiences that it took my breath away. The stuff he is able to articulate about living with -- and loving -- narcissistic parents, about learning to experience one's emotional self -- these are things I sometimes suspect are common to my entire generation. (If not, then maybe I've just surrounded myself with friends who have the same challenges as me...) I've given and/or recommended the book to countless friends, and every one comes back to me with the same reaction: they're blown away at how Wilsey's mom (or dad -- but often it's his mom, whose idealism and spiritual focus are detailed as powerfully as her emotional struggles) is just like their mom or dad. And I think the thing I appreciate most about his writing is that it's abundantly clear just how profoundly he loves both his parents, while still struggling with their flaws.

I hope I can convey just a little of how much this book meant to me, and how much it has helped me to read this brilliant (and by the way, REALLY funny, which is a killer combination) articulation of how one young man came to terms with it all. He tells an incredible story incredibly well, and it has sparked some amazing conversations, as well as some inner journeys, for people close to me.

I'm re-reading this and realizing that I've said too little about the book's own merits -- the writing, storytelling, humour -- but I feel like I've already gone on long enough, so will end here. I hope it suffices to say that I consider it one of the most compelling, and gut-wrenchingly honest, books I've read in recent memory.
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