Sunday, May 15, 2005

Let the Ugliness Begin ...

The venom doesn’t drip, it pours, out of the New York Times’ take on Sean Wilsey’s memoir, Oh The Glory of It All.

Take the beginning of the story in Sunday’s Style section, written by Joyce Wadler:

“IT'S turning into a dreadful year for Dede Wilsey.

It should have been triumphant: the reopening party for the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, for which Ms. Wilsey raised $180 million, is to be the big social event of the fall. So acknowledged is her involvement that people have taken to calling the art museum the Dede Young.

And now comes That Book.

"Oh, the Glory of It All" was written by Ms. Wilsey's stepson, Sean Wilsey, a New York-based editor of the literary magazine McSweeney's, who calls Ms. Wilsey his "evil stepmother." Blurbed by Dave Eggers and already excerpted in The New Yorker, the 482-page memoir arrives in bookstores this week. If there are any family secrets yet unrevealed about one of the most flamboyant women to pass through San Francisco society, it is difficult to know what they might be.

Dede Wilsey, who sits on the boards of the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Opera and is the president of the board of trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, is portrayed as having manipulated the author's father, Al Wilsey, who made his fortune in food and real estate, into giving her the bulk of his $300 million estate. Among other vivid scenes, the book describes a Christmas morning when Al Wilsey, seriously ill, sat wanly by as his wife - who is known in San Francisco for her magnificent jewels - pinned one $200,000 brooch after another to her bathrobe.”

In case anyone has any doubts about Dede Wilsey’s love for expensive jewelry – and she denies the story of the Christmas brooches in the article – the Times plastered a picture of her in the paper wearing an enormous diamond necklace and earrings.

Wadler goes after Sean Wilsey as well, suggesting, despite Wilsey’s protestations, that maybe he is just a trust fund baby with an axe to grind.

“The troublemaker in this case, Mr. Wilsey, is a high-energy and seemingly quite open man, at least to a point.

He declined to be interviewed at his TriBeCa loft, a very handsome loft according to those who have seen it. He preferred to meet at his writing office in a fifth-floor walkup in Chinatown. He said that he and his wife, the writer Daphne Beal, decided their home would be off limits to interviewers. (The two have a 9-month-old son.) Asked how he could afford a TriBeCa loft, given that he writes that his father left all of his money to his stepmother, Mr. Wilsey readily explained: His father had set up a $60,000 trust when he was born and invested it well. Mr. Wilsey had access to that money when he turned 25.

Rich kid?”

Later in the article, his stepmother suggests exactly that.

“They are all multi-multimillionaires," she (Dede) said of Mr. Wilsey and his siblings. "Al took very good care of his children, so it would make no difference if he married me or someone else."

Wadler is the reporter who made a name for herself writing the Times’ Boldface Names column, the newspaper's version of a society column. She drew accolades for her ability to gently mock and skewer those with massive fortunes and more power than the Pope. When she stopped writing the column, Salon made a note of it.

In contrast, the Chronicle’s Sunday profile of Sean Wilsey is much softer, portraying him as a troubled, smart youth who redeems himself through writing. Interestingly, Dede Wilsey wouldn’t talk to Chronicle reporter Carolyne Zinko. (Her lawyer has sent the paper a notice it would be held liable for printing any defamatory material). Dede spoke with the Times at least twice and Danielle Steele, a part player in this high society scandale, also opened up.

“Sean Wilsey denies that the book is a literary act of revenge. "It really is a catharsis," he said to the Chronicle, "although I wasn't crying as I wrote it. I did it because I wanted to understand things better. I really hoped for a long time that this was all a bit of a misunderstanding."

The book will be released this week. I predict it will be an immediate bestseller. (Considering all its pre-publicity, that is not a risky assertion) The truth is, the book is uneven, with many engaging parts. But Wilsey has also chosen to excerpt large chunks of his mother, Pat Montandon’s unpublished memoir, and there is a reason that manuscript never was put into print. Wilsey’s liberal use of other sources slows the book down.

But for whatever reason, this book has struck a nerve. Maybe it’s just that the world loves to see the grimy underside of the rich, and gathers satisfaction that they are no happier than most of the world.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Actually what got me about this book is how well-written it is. I look forward to the next one by Sean Wilsey.

Also the subject matter at the heart of it: absent fathers. This book made me cry more than once.