The Privileges Audio CD – Apr 2011
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A deliciously sophisticated engine of literary darkness. -- Jonathan Franzen's Book of the 2010 The Guardian Lucidly written and with a pitch-perfect ear both for contemporary mores and dialogue, The Privileges is entertaining - and morally ambiguous. The Economist Mr Dee has given us a cunning, seductive novel about the people we thought we'd all agreed to hate. His case study of American mega-wealth is delicious page by page and masterly in its balancing of sympathy and critical distance. -- Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom ... a deliciously sophisticated engine of literary darkness, seducing the reader into sympathy with a young Manhattan couple whose ascent to megawealth then takes them beyond the reach of anybody's sympathy. Strong novels for a deep recession. -- Jonathan Franzen The Guardian Dee is graceful; articulate and perceptive, and often hilariously funny... full of elegance, vitality and complexity. New York Times Here is an incredibly readable, intelligent, incisive portrait of a particular kind of American family. Dee takes us inside the world of what desire for wealth can do, and cannot do, both for the self, the soul and the family. Told with admirable conciseness and yet with great breadth, the reader is swept along, watching the complications of such desire unfold. -- Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge The Privileges is verbally brilliant, intellectually astute and intricately knowing. It is also very funny and a great, great pleasure to read. Jonathan Dee is a wonderful writer. -- Richard Ford The Privileges is an intimate portrait of a wealthy family that gradually becomes an indictment of an entire social class and historical moment, while also providing a window onto some recent, and peculiarly American, forms of decadence. Jonathan Dee is at once an acerbic social critic, an elegant stylist, and a shrewd observer of the human comedy. Tom Perrotta The subjects of money and class are seldom tackled head-on by our best literary minds, which is one of the reasons that Jonathan Dee's The Privileges is such an important and compelling work. The Privileges is a pitch-perfect evocation of a particular stratum of New York society as well as a moving meditation on family and romantic love. The tour de force first chapter alone is worth the price of admission. Jay McInerney Jonathan Dee's scintillating fifth novel, The Privileges, tells the story of a golden couple, Adam and Cynthia Morey, who rise swiftly from modest Midwestern circumstances to immense wealth in New York. The book opens at their wedding in Pittsburgh, a scene that's a tour de force of shifting points of view, rendered with artistry and control I haven't seen since Ann Patchett's Bel Canto. Washington Post Beautifully perceptive and wholly absorbing. Good Book Guide. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Jonathan Dee is the author of five novels with The Privileges being his most recent. He is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, a frequent contributor to Harper's, and a former senior editor of The Paris Review. He teaches in the graduate writing programmes at Columbia University and The New School. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.