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The Privileges [Audio CD]

Jonathan Dee , David Aaron Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting family...interesting novel May 4 2010
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I'm giving "The Privileges" five stars because I was caught up in the dynamics within the Morey family - Adam and Cynthia and their two children, April and Jonas - and their relationships with the people and situations outside the family unit. Cynthia and Adam, both from solidly middle-class families, met in college and married upon graduation. They were, from the start, a single unit of two, which quickly expanded with the births of their two children to a unit of four. Both were estranged from their birth families, though Cynthia is reunited with her father on his death-bed. She had a "removed" relationship with her mother. Adam's parents died relatively early in the marriage and he was on "removed" terms with a younger brother, Conrad. Adam did phenomenally well in business in New York and Adam and Cynthia were quickly vaulted to the top-echelon on Wall Street earners - and spenders.

What I found interesting about Jonathan Dee's portrayal of the Moreys and their children was he didn't take the easy way out and make Adam a typical Wall Street-shark, with no morals (though he did do some shady speculating) who cheated on his wife, finally replacing her with a series of "trophy-wives". He could have made Cynthia a typical NY society "social X-ray", whose only interest was in spending Adam's money as fast as she could on houses and clothes and art. Dee gives a nuanced look at Adam and Cynthia. They were NYC achievers who were, at the same time, devoted to each other and to their two children. Even though they spent large amounts of money on themselves, they also established a foundation to help the many disadvantaged in both America and abroad.
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Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars  120 reviews
61 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sociopathy, Narcissism and Wallstreet Feb. 7 2010
By kamc - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Post-Madoff, post-TARP bailout, post-those scandalous bonuses, you, like many others, may have come to the conclusion that stratospheric success on WallStreet isn't exactly the product of genius, acumen, work ethic or determination as much as the product of narcissism and sociopathy. And according to this novel, you'd be right.

So when a handsome, charming sociopath meets a beautiful, proud narcissist in college, first comes love, then comes marriage... Wallstreet is destiny.

Adam has no regrets, he could not care less about yesterday and he has nothing resembling emotional bonds outside of his own nuclear family and nothing but his wife really matters as she satisfies any need for the justification of his ruthless ambition. Cynthia on the other hand, cares little for those beyond her own nuclear family unless they gratify her self-image in some way. Both are not just unsentimental. They are asentimental. She briefly has small a crisis of self-faith about her performance as a top notch mom over a minor incident which sets off a rousing round of justification for Adam's insider trading. Insider trading and illegal offshoring of ill-gotten funds is therefore noble because it's for the family cause, but infidelity would be an unspeakable transgression in this relationship.

I'm not sure what purpose the kids serve to further this vignette unless it's because everyone has them, maybe even especially narcissists and sociopaths. And the kids do serve up a couple of different perspectives on what a casual rather causal relationship with such wealth breeds and Dee invests a lot of time in them plot-wise. April, the extrovert, compensates for her sense of cultural rootlessness resulting from her parents' disregard for extra-family attachment and asentimentality ultimately by cultivating both the careless arrogance of her mother and the same wreckless lack of empathy for those outside the family as her father. Jonah, the introvert, compensates for a childhood and adolescence void of personal struggle and subsequent meaningful achievement by setting himself on a quest for a unicorn called authenticity.

Best passage from the book for me was, "The whole idea of forgiveness presumed you were locked in the past and trying to let yourself out. She wasn't going to drag him back in that direction, to make him explain why he had lived as he had lived. That wasn't who they were. Each moment bore only the next one and if you were going to be successful in this life, that was the plane on which you had to live. If you started going on your knees to the past, demanding something from it, you were dead. She asked nothing from it."

The rich aren't like you and I. Because, above all else, they have never believed they are like everyone else even on the most fundamental human level, even before they became wealthy. And that's what Dee's The Privileges is at its core.
43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Embrace of Excess Nov. 30 2009
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Adam and Cynthia Morey are rich. Not just rich, but obscenely rich. We meet them at their lavish wedding, two starry-eyed children pretending to be adults, right at the cusp of all things good. And we follow them as they quickly become parents to April and Jonah and begin to accumulate more and more and more...stepping over the dark side to insider trading and unmarked overseas bank accounts.

There has been much written today about the spoiled, irresponsible, and unethical affluent -- their values, their lifestyle, their implosions. Characters don't necessarily have to be "likable" to be interesting; for example, Tom Wolfe in Bonfires of the Vanities, Caitlin Macy in Spoiled, and Claire Messud in The Emperor's Children create solid narratives based on the most wealthy Americans. For the first half of this book, it appeared to me that Jonathan Dee would rise to this strata.

Indeed, at the beginning, Mr. Dee carefully crafts a narrative of Adam and Cynthia, and leads the reader to the point of their temptation -- where they view Adam's mentor's extravagant "country" house. But then, inconceivably, the threads begin unraveling and the story begins falling apart.

The focus of the book shifts to the children -- April and Jonah -- who are nowhere as interesting as their parents (who also begin to drift into the landscape of cliches). Dare I say they are actually boring? They are the children of privilege and their lives become insular and one-dimensional -- April's flirtation with physical and substance abuse danger, Jonah's yearning for something "real". They drift from one experience to the other, always narcissists without the in-depth back story to make them appealing to the reader.

At one point, Mr. Dee writes, "It wasn't about being rich per se. It was about living a big life, a life that was larger than life. Money was just the instrument." Had he pursued that theme, this would have been a far more fascinating read. As it is, the narrative becomes smaller than life with little new to impart.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When a $250,000 Bonus isn't Enough......... Dec 9 2009
By Mr. August - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is an interesting novel, reminding me of F. Scott Fitzgerald who portrayed the affluent and John Updike who revealed inner lives of Americans who respond to personal turmoil and obligations. But Jonathan Dee moves beyond typical with Adam and Cynthia who prove throughout the book they are a superbly well-matched couple. They view themselves as invincible and only need each other.

They marry young, the story opens with their wedding, and they both exude rare confidence. Cynthia has meager feelings for anyone except Adam and her elusive father. Adam appears to have stepped out of his blue collar family and has found Cynthia, a true partner to help him triumph.

What they both lack in conscience is made up in their aspirations for wealth and power. Adam is the star at a small investment firm where he does well every year earning large salaries and larger bonuses. But it is not enough for him. He steps out of the legitimate realm, hooks up with a small time crook and sets up a separate operation which boosts his income making him a rich man, who does not get caught. His timing is perfect; he shuts down this venture and later starts a hedge fund where investors beg him for inclusion, reminiscent of Bernie Madoff. They have two children, the daughter is the stereotypical spoiled brat who can do anything and her parents will bail her out no matter what. The son has more depth and some despair. Dee's characterizations of this family are rich with significant milestones in their lives.

This could have been a trite story of how the rich live and it's never enough, but Dee's writing is excellent and I know people like Adam and Cynthia. They are real to me. Nothing dreadful happens to them, they in truth don't care about anyone. Adam believes one should leave a mark in this world or it's as if you never were here. I believed Adam's obsession with his success, Cynthia's obsession with his success and their strong belief they did no wrong. Everyone dances to their wishes and they live happily ever after in their privileged world.
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great writing fails to make up for shallow story & 1-D characters Jan. 11 2010
By kaduzy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book delves into the lives of a family of rich white New Yorkers, starting from the beginning of their marriage and continuing twenty years as they get even richer. Jonathan Dee is an extraordinary writer, but his book is flawed for two insurmountable reasons: his writing never delves deeply enough for the reader to really connect to or understand his characters, and the people he's chosen to write about are not the types that I think most people want to read about at the present time. His timing is unfortunate. In this post-Madoff and Wall Street bank scandals era, how can an average person sympathize with a man whose fortune is built on stock fraud and cheating, law-breaking and lies? Or a woman who has barely worked a day in her life (save some obligatory time at a magazine, which seems to be the default job for any lazy author writing about a stylish woman who lives in Manhattan) and who is so sheltered that her biggest tragedy in life is losing her kids for one hour on the subway? Or a daughter who grows up into some Paris Hilton-lite party girl? Dee's writing is the only thing that propelled me along, because just as I was about to give up in disgust with the mundane antics of these shallow, unnecessary people, he'd throw another passage at me that honestly made me stop and go, "Wow." If only his storytelling skills were as good as his writing skills. He's given us two people who are supposed to have this epic love, but we never SEE that love between them, we only hear other people talk about it. Most of the narrative is spent with each character separately, and he dives in and out of it at such abrupt intervals, giving us a handful of scenes that are actually life-altering, character-shaping moments for these people, but most of which are just banal, everyday events. He's also not very current with his references; one character mentions a party where the rich couple hired Wyclef Jean as the entertainment, as if that is really something special.

In the end however, even Dee's considerable writing skills could not keep me interested in this story. It took me months to finally finish it, because I had to literally force myself to get through the final pages. I would have just left it unfinished, but when I first started reading it, I predicted that the book would come to an abrupt end right in the middle of the story, and I wanted to see if I was right. I was. It ends exactly like that, but not before (SPOILER ALERT!!) dragging the reader through the drawn-out death of a beyond minor character whose name we don't even learn until he's on his deathbed. So why exactly would we care about him?

Unfortunately, that is a question that cannot be answered for ANY of this book's characters. Both of my stars are for Dee's prose, which truly is a gift. I really hope that this talented man finds a story and a subject more worthy of his writing skills the next time he attempts a novel.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What's the point? March 28 2010
By M. Carter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I kept reading and reading, believing that soon the "real story" would begin. Instead, it seems like one long introduction to characters who are pretty flat, whose lives are not all that interesting, and who don't really grow all that much. The most interesting character turns out to be Adam, the protagonist, but that's really just because the story is about him and his life.

SPOILER ALERT:

This book could be summed up in 2 sentences: Formerly middle-class guy makes a ton of money (billions?) through insider trading, starts a foundation to absolve himself from unexpressed guilt, and is surrounded by 2 bratty children and 1 adoring wife. The end.

All the things you think might happen to make these people rethink their lives don't actually ever happen: Adam never gets caught insider trading, the kids never end up on skid row, even though one is a drug addict and the other one is a hopeless emo, the wife never berates him for working so hard, the husband never cheats on his wife... in short, there's just no "there" there. No plot, no twists, no real character development. It's my first Jonathan Dee read: I bought it after reading a glowing review in the NYT. I guess my taste is just off.
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