I must admit, right off the bat, that I read most of this book while lying on the beach or by the pool in Hawaii. Before you gag on that, let me assure you that this was between sessions of swimming with the kid, which definitely took up the bulk of our days. Those stolen moments to read were sheer bliss, and I finished Oh the Glory of It All the night before we left, struggling to ward off the narcotic effect of one too many mai tais at dinner.
Sean Wilsey, for all his wealth and privilege, got a bum deal. He fell through the cracks of a nasty public divorce between his father, San Francisco businessman, playboy and social climber Al Wilsey, and his mother, the flaky, gorgeous, slightly unhinged Pat Montandon. Luckily, he emerged from this ridiculous childhood and adolescence with the presence of mind and memory to share his insane memoir with the world.
To write a memoir at the tender age of 35 means that some crazy shit must have gone down in a short amount of time. Wilsey's parents' divorce was prime fodder for the San Francisco society pages at the time, and every aspect of their split, especially the absurdly extravagant financial details, were in the papers every single day. Al Wilsey left Pat Montandon for her best friend, the sexy, conniving, gold-digging Dede Wilsey. Dede left her husband at the time, John Traina, who later went on to marry Danielle Steel. Now, in the present day, Dede Wilsey has all but been nominated for sainthood in this town for her tireless fundraising to get the new De Young museum built. But according to Sean, she was a wicked stepmother on par with any badass Disney bitch.
At first, Sean was merely brushed aside by his father and his new family (Dede brought two sons to the marriage, the bright and shiny rich boys Todd and Trevor Traina), and was psychologically terrorized by his mother's flair for drama and threatened suicides. As time went on, the sense of being shut out and inferior to his father's new family became more and more pronounced. The heartbreaking earnestness with which he tried to be "cool" like his stepbrothers was constantly met with some kind of cutting remark from Dede, or a reproach from his distant, hypercritical dad. Meanwhile, his mother had turned her attention and affections to her new cause of promoting peace around the world through the voices of children (Children as Teachers of Peace), which meant little more than a chance for her to prance around in front of the Kremlin in a foxy fur hat and get her picture taken.
As Sean reaches his adolescent years, the book takes a turn for the better, for although it's always interesting to read about rich society people and their problems, it's much more interesting to read about a crazy, dope-smoking punk skater boy getting into major trouble. That's ultimately what makes this memoir completely captivating. As soon as Sean starts acting out, his dad proceeds to ship him back east to a series of boarding schools, starting with the upscale, preppy St. Mark's. There is something in Sean that constantly seeks approval, inclusion, and the elusive "cool," to the point of not being able to focus on anything else. In the book he blames his parents' self-absorption and neglect, but honestly, there's a glitch in his personality that just seems drawn to trouble and drama. He's his mama's boy.
Wilsey is able to remember and recount such detailed and embarrassing moments of his adolescence and teen years, it is truly a gift. As you can probably guess, St. Mark's doesn't quite work out and he's sent to a more "alternative" boarding school called Woodhall, which is basically just a haven for a bunch of serial stoners. On Sean's trips home, he manages to steal cars, break things, and rile up his family to the point of exasperation. He is a bad apple with a safety net, and there's nothing more irritating or uncontrollable than a rich kid on a rampage.
Because my Hawaii trip was with my own dad and step mom, the whole experience of reading Wilsey's memoir brought back some prickly memories of my own rebellious adolescence, trying to deal with my dad's second wife, a manipulative Dede type if there ever was one. I too was a miserable punk teen with a bad attitude and a trust fund, but luckily my parents were always there for me. I am thankful that, unlike Al Wilsey, my dad wised up and married one final time to a wonderful woman.
Suffice it to say that for the train wreck of a kid that is Sean Wilsey, it gets pretty damn dark before the dawn, when he is finally broken down and rebuilt at a kooky New Age reform school-slash-sanatorium in Italy. Oh the Glory of It All is a rollicking combination of Catcher in the Rye, Mommie Dearest and The Basketball Diaries. Wilsey's prose gets a little wobbly at times, and his years of therapy have definitely simplified some pretty complex problems, but it's truly a fun read and a must for any connoisseur of dirt-dredging gossip, SF style.
Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey
Hard Cover, 496 pages