<b>Wilsey's mom gets the last word?</b> Oh the cleverness of it all. Two years ago, <i>McSweeney's Quarterly</i> editor Sean Wilsey vented about his wealthy, dysfunctional family in <i>Oh the Glory of It All</i>. Now, Wilsey's mother Pat Montandon, who took considerable battering in his memoir, has <i>her</i> say. <b>Oh the Hell of it All</b> confronts her son's accusations, while detailing her rags-to-riches to woman-on-a-mission journey. Never boring, often compelling, it underscores the power of tenacity.
A fixture of the San Francisco social scene, Montandon made her mark as a newspaper columnist and local television host, and as wife of butter magnate Al Wilsey. They seemed to have it all. Why, for her 50th birthday he threw her a surprise party at Trader Vic's (he wore a tux, she was in Dior) and presented her with a pair of emerald and diamond earrings. He dropped a bomb eight days later: He wanted a divorce.
He married her best friend; the friend's husband married romance novelist Danielle Steel. Montandon was left shell-shocked, financially unstable and so suicidal she contemplated a jump off the top of her penthouse, with her son. That's not a good idea mom, he told her.
She didn't start at the top. Daughter of a fundamentalist Oklahoma preacher, Montandon was waitressing in California when she met and married a farmer and military man. She was 18. A dozen years later, the newly divorced Montandon moved to the Bay Area where she managed department stores and threw talked-about theme parties. The attractive blonde dated Sinatra (he called her Patty Baby ) and ever-so-briefly married famed attorney Melvin Belli, who took her to Tokyo for a Shinto wedding ceremony. Columnist Herb Caen dubbed the union Thirty seconds over Tokyo. After the collapse of the dream marriage to Wilsey she became involved in homegrown post-Cold War diplomacy. She formed a foundation that takes kids to foreign countries to ask world leaders for peace and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. And eventually, she and her son found a kind of peace in part, by writing their respective takes on the struggle of it all.
<i>Pat H. Broeske is a biographer and a frequent contributor to the Arts & Leisure section of</i> The New York Times.