Monday, July 18, 2005

I had two reasons for reading Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey. First, of course, was the McSweeney's connection (he is an editor for the quarterly). But mostly it was the connection with San Francisco. Sean Wilsey's mother and father were fixtures in the society pages, never more so than when they divorced and his father married Sean's mother's best friend, who comes off like a cross between Eve Harrington in All About Eve and the wicked stepmother from Cinderella (he compares her frequently to Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings). Dirt is definitely dished (his father had an affair with Danielle Steel! Who then married his stepmother's ex-husband!) and reading these parts of the book are like watching Dynasty with a sarcastic friend providing the commentary. While reading about his exploits, I had quite a few "aw, poor little rich boy" cynical responses, but then he would relate something like the suicide pact his mother tried to get him to make with her, or talk about the crazy, random rules his stepmother would impose and some of that went away because I could see how profoundly that could screw someone up.

The book is packed full of characters way to weird to be anything but real and they are described lovingly, with all eccentricities on full display. There are also beautiful lines describing San Francisco like, "The day was classic San Francisco - a cloudy day full of small sunny days - and as we blasted off Nob Hill, skirted Chinatown, took Jackson to Polk, Polk to the Tenderloin, weaved a pattern around California, we moved from yellow to gray to yellow to gray, making a lot of noise." Isn't that perfect?

The book started to lag toward the end when Sean got sent to Italy to go to an experimental school. The school he attended worked for him but reading about it made me uncomfortable - it seemed too much like the brainwashing he insisted it wasn't. After reading about one of the "propheets" they had I actually said out loud "That totally sounds like Girl's Camp" and lo and behold on the next page I read, "An attempt to dress from the soul and the heart would follow - an attempt to look good and pure and clean and radiant at all times. There was something Latter Day Saint-ish about it." Hee. What would religion be without a little brainwashing, right? Anyway. After Sean returns from Italy he seems to come to terms with his parents as individuals and with his own history. The book ends with his father's death and a rather anti-climactic battle over his father's will, in which his stepmother Dede is as victorious as always (although I did cheer a little bit when Sean finally told her to shut up). It's still definitely worth reading. Wilsey is a talented writer and the stories and people he describes are compelling - kinda like how you have to look at an accident on the freeway as you pass.

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