Smart and socially gifted, Adam and Cynthia Morey are perfect for each other. With Adam’s rising career in the world of private equity, a beautiful home in Manhattan, gorgeous children, and plenty of money, they are, by any reasonable standard, successful. But for the Moreys, their future of boundless privilege is not arriving fast enough. As Cynthia begins to drift, Adam is confronted with a choice that will test how much he is willing to risk to ensure his family’s happiness and to recapture the sense that the only acceptable life is one of infinite possibility. The Privileges is an odyssey of a couple touched by fortune, changed by time, and guided above all else by their epic love for each other.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Jonathan Dee is the author of four novels, most recently Palladio. 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 programs at Columbia University and the New School.
Read an Excerpt
A wedding! The first of a generation; the bride and groom are just twenty- two, young to be married these days. Most of their friends flew in yesterday, and though they are in Pittsburgh, a city of half a million, they affect a good- natured snobbish disorientation, because they come from New York and Chicago but also because it suits their sense of the whole event, the magical disquieting novelty of it, to imagine that they are now in the middle of nowhere. They have all, of course, as children or teenagers, sat through the wedding of some uncle or cousin or in quite a few cases their own mother or father, so they know in that sense what to expect. But this is their first time as actual friends and contemporaries of the betrothed; and the strange, anarchic exuberance they feel is tied to a fear that they are being pulled by surrogates into the world of responsible adulthood, a world whose exit will disappear behind them and for which they feel proudly unready. They are adults pretending to be children pretending to be adults. Last night’s rehearsal dinner ended with the overmatched restaurant manager threatening to call the police. The day to come shapes up as an unstable compound of camp and import. Nine hours before they’re due at the church, many of them are still sleeping, but already the thick old walls of the Pittsburgh Athletic Club seem to hum with a lordly overenthusiasm.
Mid- September. Since Labor Day, the western half of Pennsylvania has been caught in a late and dispiriting heat wave. Cynthia wakes up in her mother’s house, in a bed she’s awakened in only five or six times in her life, and her first thought is for the temperature. She pulls on a t- shirt in case anyone else is awake, passes her burdensome stepsister Deborah (never Debbie) sleeping in flannel pajamas half on and half off the living room couch, and slides open the door to the deck, from which she can see in the distance a few limp flags on the golf course at Fox Chapel. Cool, tolerably cool anyway, though it’s still too early to tell anything for sure. It can’t even be seven yet, she thinks. Not that she’s worried. The specter of her bridesmaids holding beer bottles to their foreheads to cool off, or of Adam wiping the sweat out of his eyes as he promises himself to her, only makes her smile. She’s not the type to fold if things don’t go perfectly; what matters most to her is that the day be one that nobody who knows her will ever forget, a day her friends will tell stories about. She turns and heads back indoors, past her own fading footprints in the heavy dew on the cedar planks of the deck.
She never imagined a wedding in Pittsburgh, because she never had any reason to imagine it until her mother remarried and moved out here two years ago. To the extent she’d pictured it at all, Cynthia had always assumed she’d be married back in Joliet Park: but in the middle of her last semester at Colgate she learned that her father had sold their old house there, in which he had not lived for a long time; and when she announced her engagement two months later her mother Ruth went off on one of her unpacifiable jags about Cynthia’s stepfather Warren being “a part of this family” and would not stand for any implication that this was less than entirely true. To force- march these outsize personalities back to the scene of the family’s dissolution in Joliet Park, to listen to them bitch over the seating chart and over old friends whose post- divorce allegiances were sometimes painfully ambiguous, was out of the question. It would have been a gruesome sort of nostalgia, and pointless at that. A wedding is rightfully about the future if it is about anything at all.
They could have married in New York—where Cynthia and Adam already shared an apartment—and in fact that was the arrangement Adam gently pushed for, on the grounds, typically male, of maximum simplicity. But the truth was that that wouldn’t have seemed unusual enough to Cynthia, too little distinct from a typical Saturday night out drinking and dancing with their friends, just with fancier clothes and a worse band. She wasn’t completely sure why the idea should appeal to her at all—the big schmaltzy wedding, the sort of wedding for which everyone would have to make travel plans—but she didn’t make a habit of questioning her wants. So Pittsburgh it was. Adam shrugged and said he only cared about making her happy; her father sent her a lovely note from wherever he was living now, implying that the whole idea had been his to begin with; and Warren expressed himself by opening up his checkbook, a consequence, to tell the truth, of which Cynthia had not been unmindful.
She tiptoes past the couch to avoid waking Deborah, because waking her might cause her to speak, and on one’s wedding day there are some trials one ought to be spared. They don’t know each other that well, but little things about Deborah excite Cynthia’s derision as though they have lived together for years. The flannel pajamas, for instance: she is two years older than Cynthia but so congenitally chilly that she and Ruth might as well be roommates at the old folks’ home. The house was bought with a second life in mind, a life in which the children were grown and gone, which explains why there is only one spare bedroom. Though the couch looks gratifyingly uncomfortable, Cynthia considered a campaign to pack Deborah off to the Athletic Club with all the other guests, so that her maid of honor and best friend, Marietta, could stay at the house instead. But family obligations are perverse. It makes no sense at all that this palpably hostile sexless geek should be one of her bridesmaids, and one of Cynthia’s many close friends’ feelings hurt as a result; yet here she is.
In the kitchen Ruth, Cynthia’s mother, whose last name is now Harris, is drinking a cup of tea standing up, in a green ankle- length bathrobe she holds closed at the neck. Cynthia passes her and opens the refrigerator without a word. “Warren’s out,” Ruth says, in answer to a question it would not occur to Cynthia to ask. “He went to get you some coffee. We only keep decaf in the house, so he went out specially for you.”
Cynthia scowls at the effrontery of decaf coffee, a fetish of the old and joyless. Tossing a loaf of bread on the counter, she stands on tiptoe to search the cupboard where she remembers the ancient jams are kept; then, feeling her mother’s gaze, she turns her head to look back over her shoulder and says, “What?”
It’s the underwear: the fact that she is parading around in it, but also the underwear itself, the unhomeliness of it, the fact that her daughter has grown into a woman whom it pleases to spend a lot of money on underwear. Shameless is the word for it. All Ruth wants is a little gravitas for today of all days, a proper sense of nervousness or even fear, which she might then think of some way to allay. One last moment of reliance. But no: it became clear weeks ago that all this was no rite of passage into womanhood for her daughter— it’s a party, a big party for her and all her friends, and she and Warren are just there to pick up the tab. For the last six or eight years, nearly every sight of her daughter has caused a certain look to cross Ruth’s face, a look of just- you- wait, though the question “wait for what?” is not one she could answer and thus she keeps her mouth shut. The flatness of Cynthia’s stomach, the strength and narrowness of her hips, more than anything the way she carries herself with such immodesty in a body whose nearness to the modern ideal is bound to provoke an unpredictable range of response: self- satisfied women are often brought low in this world, and for years now, mostly by frowning, Ruth has tried to sneak her insights onto the record.
But she reprimands herself; today, no matter who cares to deny it, is not just any day. She feels the faint echo of her own terror in the hours before her first wedding, a terror that was partly sexual, which counts as a bond between them even though her daughter’s sexuality is a subject she has long since lost the fortitude to go near. “So,” she says, trying for a conciliatory tone. “This is your special day.” And Cynthia turns around, mouth open, and laughs—a laugh Ruth has heard before, the only solace for which is a retreat into memories of when her only child was a baby.
Behind them, the digital clock on the microwave blinks silently to seven- thirty. In the living room, Deborah, having woken herself with her own snoring, makes a little groaning sound that no one hears and pushes her face deeper into the gap between the cushions and the sofa back. At the Athletic Club, the weekend desk clerk consults the computer printout in her hand and dials the extension for Adam’s room. She’s seen the Daily Events schedule and recognizes his name as that of the groom; to the scripted wake- up greeting at the top of the printout she adds best wishes of her own, because she saw him last night and he’s cute.
“Thanks,” Adam says, and hangs up. He too goes straight to the window to check the weather. His window faces the alley, though; he’ll probably get a better sense of the day’s prospects from the TV. He turns it on with the sound down but then lies back on the bed, fingers laced behind his head, and forgets to watch.
He hates sleeping alone and maybe for that reason he spent the minutes before the phone rang in an extravagant dream, a dream about driving a car with no steering wheel in it, a car that responded to his slightest weight shifts, like a skateboard or a sled.
One hour until breakfast in the hotel restaurant with his parents and his younger brother and best man, Conrad. Having thought of this, he tries to forget it again so that he can be genuinely blameless if he shows up late. He’s a little hung over from the rehearsal dinner, though others, he reflects, will have cause to be a whole lot more hung over than he. Too early to call Cynthia, who’s probably still asleep. What would really calm him down is sex with her—as it is he starts most mornings that way; it scatters the vague anxieties with which he wakes—but today that’s not going to happen. With sudden inspiration he arches his back and pounds on the wall above his headboard, the wall his room shares with the room where Conrad is staying.
Conrad doesn’t hear; up for an hour already, he is standing in the shower practicing his toast. It was the only duty that gave him any pause at all when he accepted the best- man role. He blushes and shakes whenever he has to speak in public; and how relatively easy it would be to pull this off in front of a ballroom full of strangers, as opposed to friends and family with their license for pitiless longterm teasing, people before whom there is no question of pretending even for a few minutes that he is anyone other than who he is. “They are a charmed couple,” he says, because this is a phrase over which he’s stumbled in earlier rehearsals; and it’s too late now for a rewrite. “They are a charmed chouple. Fuck.” And he starts from the beginning.
Waking in the other rooms on the second and third floor of the Athletic Club are friends of the bride and groom—couple friends, friends who have brought especially serious or promising dates— almost all of whom find themselves acting, at that hour, on a sexual impulse that’s unsettlingly strong even for the bloom of youth. Some are laughing, and some stare into their partners’ eyes with an urgency the memory of which will have them avoiding each other’s gaze an hour later. They are not used to the licentiousness of hotel rooms; and the knowledge that on this particular weekend they have not just infiltrated this stuffy club but taken it over gives a subterraneous group sense to each intimate encounter, a sense of orgy that makes them want to offend strangers, to exert themselves until the walls of that place come down.
Indeed there is one couple that knocks the headboard against the wall behind Adam’s parents’ bed so loudly that his mother just prays she doesn’t know them. She even tells her husband to call the front desk and complain, but he’s in the bathroom and hears, as a rule, what he chooses to hear.
At eight- thirty Marietta’s car rolls into the Harrises’ driveway. Inside the kitchen she and the still undressed Cynthia kiss like sisters; “Jesus, it’s fucking hot out there,” Marietta says. “Oh hi, Mrs. Sikes. I mean Mrs. Harris!” It’s more than Ruth can bear; she smiles premonitorily and withdraws from the kitchen.
“So shall we go do the hair thing?” Marietta says, but then all of a sudden Deborah is in the doorway, hair matted, face pebbled from the rough upholstery of the couch, looking at them both with tribal hatred.
“Your phone’s ringing,” she says to her stepsister, and turns and leaves.
The phone is on the bedroom floor, underneath the jacket Cynthia wore to the rehearsal dinner. Marietta follows her through the living room.
“Thanks for bringing it to me, there, Debski,” says Cynthia, though Deborah has disappeared into the bathroom. “So, you didn’t bring your dress? Where is it?”
“In the freezer,” Marietta says.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby. Haven’t you heard? It’s my Special Day.”
“Well, that’s my point. You’re the bride. Still well within your power to change the whole dress code to, like, beach casual.”
“Wear a tank top to your own wedding, slut,” Cynthia says.
“That’s not how we roll here in Pittsburgh.”
“I’ve got that not- so- fresh feeling,” Marietta says. “That’s all I’m saying.”
In his chair watching CNN as they pass behind him, Warren hears all this and, though he would still like to be a kind of father to this young woman, knows that for the moment the only dignified course is to pretend that he is not even in the room at all.
Cynthia smiles at Marietta and takes the phone out on the deck. “Isn’t this bad luck?” she says, sliding the door shut behind her.
“I saw your dad in the lobby last night,” Adam says. “I recognized him from his picture. He seemed in pretty good form. Have you called him yet?”
“No,” she says, and her heart races a little bit. “I will in a while. Hey, what time is it?”
“Quarter to four.”
“Very funny. I mean aren’t you supposed to be at breakfast with your parents?”
“Well don’t leave Conrad alone with them, for God’s sake. You know how they get. Plus he’s got the rings so let’s not antagonize him.”
Adam smiles, waiting for the elevator in the empty hotel corridor. “Can you believe we’re doing this?” he says.
The boards on the deck are already burning her feet. “Not too late to back out,” she said, “if that’s why you’re calling.”
“Well, I still have seven hours to think about it, right?”
“Me too. Tell you what, if I’m not there by, let’s say, ten of four, you just go ahead and assume I’m not coming, okay?”
“Fair enough. Seeing how everything’s paid for and all, if you don’t show I’ll just wave one of the bridesmaids up and marry her.”
“Which one you have your eye on?”
There is a pause. “I missed you when I woke up this morning,” he says.
Her view of the golf course from earlier that morning has now been erased by haze. She closes her eyes. “Me too,” she says. “You won’t forget pictures, right?”
“Two- fifteen in the Trophy Room. Conrad’s carrying around a little schedule.”
“Okay,” she says. “See you then. Enjoy your last few hours of freedom.”
“Gotta go,” he says. “The hookers are here.”
She hangs up on him, smiling. In the living room, Marietta stands uncomfortably, while Deborah, back on the couch, watches her like a guard dog, like some emissary from the underworld of the socially damned. Marietta can read her hatred only as jealousy, which softens her own attitude a bit.
“So,” she says, and remembers that Deborah is a graduate student somewhere, in something. “School is good?”
Adam strolls into the hotel dining room and sees that his parents, sitting with a stricken- looking Conrad, have ordered their breakfast but not touched it. They missed their connection in New York yesterday and arrived too late to make it to the rehearsal dinner, which may have been just as well. He kisses his mother on the top of her head. “How’s your room?” he asks. “Everything to your liking?” Adam’s father makes a sarcastic noise, which his mother recognizes and preemptively talks over.
“Very nice,” she says. “Very comfortable. You have to point out Cynthia’s parents to me so we can say thank you.”
The two sets of parents have never met. There didn’t seem much point to it. “Marietta made it home okay last night?” Adam asks Conrad. Conrad nods but does not stop eating, because he would very much like to get this breakfast over with. Adam signals the waitress for coffee. He hasn’t really looked at either of his parents since he sat down. No one is looking at Mr. Morey, though he seems to be mysteriously gathering himself nonetheless, like a clock about to strike. Two heart attacks have hunched his shoulders in the way of a man much older than he actually is. Up in the room are four portable oxygen tanks, in case he needs them, and in the purse at his wife’s feet are various pills and phone numbers. But his short temper and unregulated resentments suggest that his physical failings are a kind of natural outgrowth of his personality, and everyone who knows him, mindful of his angry pride, is unsolicitous toward him. He is tormented by the efflorescence of foolishness and waste of all kinds, everywhere around him. He was a pipe fitter who became a full- time union executive until his disabilities forced him to retire. The Pittsburgh Athletic Club is exactly the kind of place that sets him off. His wife has made him put on a coat and tie for breakfast even though she will now have to hear about it for the next month.
But Adam is not embarrassed by them in this setting, as his brother is, because he doesn’t really associate them all that closely with himself anymore. He is amused by their helpless compulsion to be themselves, and will wind them up like a music box at any opportunity. “Hey, you know what I found in my room?” he says. “In the dresser drawer? A list of room rates. Did you guys see that? Do you have any idea what this place costs?”
“Oh, Adam, please,” his mother whispers, “today of all—”
“As it happens, I did,” his father says, reddening. “I’m just glad I’m not the sap paying for all this.”
“More reason to be glad we never had girls,” his mother says, and laughs as if she were being filmed laughing.
“That wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference to me,” Mr. Morey says. “I don’t have to put on a show for anybody. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not.”
Adam abruptly stands up. “Oh look, there’s Mr. Sikes,” he says. “Excuse me. I’m gonna go practice calling him Dad.” And he crosses the room to where the bride’s dapper father sits at a table by himself, reading the paper. Conrad watches him leave in disbelief. His parents stare accusingly at each other. A moment later the waitress comes by and fills Adam’s coffee cup.
The doors to the hotel ballroom are shut, and behind them, in moments of silence, one can hear the vacuum cleaners run. Teenage girls in stiff black skirts walk from table to table, checking the place settings, counting on their fingers. They work slowly; the air conditioning is turned up all the way, and with the room not yet full of bodies it is exotically cold, the coldest place in the hotel. Only those most desperate for a cigarette pass through the double doors to the infernal kitchen and the steaming alley beyond.
At the hotel bar sits the wedding planner, habitually early, having sent her son and his friend to the florist’s in her van, praying they haven’t stopped to get high along the way. It’s why she doesn’t pay them in advance. The bar isn’t officially open yet but Masha knows everyone at the Athletic Club; this will be her fourth reception there this year. Though it’s before noon, she feels like (as her father used to say) a drink drink, and Omar the bartender would certainly comp her one, but while she’s on the job alcohol is out of the question. Something like that gets out and your reputation is shot. True, the bride—whose superior attitude Masha doesn’t especially care for— isn’t even from Pittsburgh and acts as if she might never set foot here again after today; but the stepfather, whose name is on the checks, is some rainmaker at Reed Smith, and the mother, whose superior attitude she doesn’t much care for either, is one of those chronically unsatisfied types who love nothing better than to nurse along some scandal, substantiated or otherwise.
But that’s the secret to Masha’s success: you get invested not in the people, who can let you down, but in the ceremony, which never does. She doesn’t say it out loud very often but she thinks of herself as a guardian of something, a finger in the dike holding back total indifference toward the few things that have always mattered, ritual and devotion and commitment. When you thought of it that way, the less you happened to care for the families themselves, the more noble your work became. Her own marriage ended after nine years, but that detracted in no way from the beautiful memory of her wedding day itself; in fact, that’s what you were left with, she thinks, that and a beloved if somewhat less than reliable son. Besides, if it were up to her they would all still be together, husband and wife and child, through happy and contentious times alike. But not everything is her decision.
Reading Group Guide
1. What do you think the author was ultimately trying to say about wealth and greed? Do you agree with him?
2. Adam and Cynthia have a bit of an obsession with leaving their pasts behind them. Do you think this serves them well? What about their children? Does it ultimately help or hinder them?
3. There are no specific references to dates in the novel, giving the story a sense that it is suspended in time. Why do you think the author chose to do that?
4. Did you find yourself able to sympathize with these characters throughout their rise? How important or necessary do you think it is for the reader to be able to do that?
5. There are many thematic elements in the plot: wealth, family, risk, love. Which resonated for you the most?
6. Would you describe Adam and Cynthia as amoral, or as having their own sort of morality? Is there a difference?
7. Many of Jonathan Dee's novels have been referred to as social critiques. Do you think he meant for The Privileges to be interpreted that way?
8. This book came out on the heels of a global financial meltdown. How do you think the characters would have fared in today's financial climate?
9. Jonas develops obsessionsunusual even for someone his agewith music and then with art. What do you think he's searching for?
10. The novel skips through time, with each chapter beginning a few years later than the previous one. Do you like this technique? Why do you think the author chose it?
11. What did you make of Cynthia's loyal attachment to her absent father?
12. April and Jonas respond to their family's enormous wealth in very different ways. Why do you think that is? And do you think either of them truly has the capacity to change at the end?
13. What do you think the next generation of Moreys (presuming there is one) will be like?
14. Do you think Adam and Cynthia got what they deserved in the end?
15. What does it mean, finally, to be privileged?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jonathan Dee's The Privileges is the story of a couple who dedicate themselves to each other and only each other. They are glorious and beautifully immoral, and yet they don't go off on a killing spree or anything remotely debauched, they just make money, lots of it. Which somehow makes their story so uniquely American, the fact that Adam and Cynthia Morey move effortlessly through life, refusing to ever review or regret their past, convinced that if they are getting away with it, then they aren't doing anything wrong. The reader can't help but read on, waiting for their carefully constructed life to fall apart, torn between wanted them to succeed and wanting them to reap their just rewards.
The writing was well enough but I feel like it pulled up short, like every point fell off a cliff. I don't know what I'm supposed to take away from the book or how it's supposed to make me feel but I feel very unsatisfied. I wanted more of everything, more character building, more explanations, more of a beginning/middle/and end feel.
This story began with a young, upwardly mobile couple as they prepare for their marriage. Their wedding day is scrutinized. You can feel their youthful exuberance. They are a charmed couple and believe they can make the rules, defying authority, laughing at the system. Whether or not they grow and mature, break the rules and succeed, is immaterial, in the end. The only thing that is important is their abiding affection for each other. For the reader, it will bring back the memories of one's own planning of any event, complete with the anxieties and joyfulness. It will take the reader through the memories of their lives with familiar scenes bringing knowing smiles of recognition to their faces. The family dynamics are really amusing and true to form. In this case there are blended families involved and their interrelationships are often hilarious. As the story moves through the years, we see the couple change. The book is one in which several generations may identify. It is hard to come up with a reason that someone might not enjoy this book, unless the stereotyping of the generations feels overwhelming. It is best to just keep turning the pages with the Moreys. You will not be disappointed. Cynthia is a stay at home mom. Adam is climbing the ladder of success in the investment world. He lives his life to make Cynthia happy. The children, April and Jonas, are living in the lap of luxury. They are not in touch with reality or with true emotions. Neither the children nor the parents, can do wrong, even when they most decidedly, do wrong. No matter what happens, Adam and Cynthia "fix" it. There is always a way to handle whatever happens for money is power and control and it has bought them privileges not afforded to the ordinary person. Even as a perfect couple, they grew somewhat dissatisfied as the years passed. They felt they were missing something and wanted more. Having attained one dream they turned their attention to another. They pushed every envelope to its limit as they climbed higher and higher into the world of the rich. They had to keep on buying, doing and going. What started out as a simple adventure into marriage and family turned into an experiment in greed. They lived to attain things. Their children loved them but they also pushed the envelope and disobeyed the rules knowing their cool parents would bail them out and provide them with whatever they wished. I thought the Moreys were hypocrites. They felt they were above the laws and rules for mere mortals. Their mistakes were never rectified, they were justified and covered up. Though I found the characters to be unpleasant people, I couldn't dislike them. The author made them believable. People were drawn to them as I was. Their charisma moved them forward. For every negative aspect portrayed, another favorable one was ready in the wings to stand beside it. It is a timeless novel for readers of all ages. I identified with many of the scenes and saw my own children in others. The lack of privileges or their abundance, matters not; the book made one think about the meaning of privilege and the access it offers. Does responsibility toward others come with the assumption of privilege? What legacy do we leave behind when we "shuffle off this mortal coil?" What are acceptable means to achieve it?
Yes they're young and rich, but how did they get there? This is one couples story from wedding day to mid-life. It has a probably accurate (how would i know?) view of over-induldged young adults (the couples'c children) as they come to realize that they have quite the life. Well written and food for thought about people with more money than most of us..
The complete disconnect from the couples family after getting married was intriguing. I did like the thought of Adam and Cynthia only having themselves to rely upon. I thought their relationship was real and honest and enjoyed reading their conversations the most. But mostly, I felt frustration with the book. The entire book felt rushed. I felt like I was reading a sequel and that I should have known the characters already and their family issues. I needed more explanations and background information to really enjoy this book. I usually read a book from start to finish in one sitting because I have a hard time putting a good book down. I had no trouble putting this down. It took me a few weeks to get through this. I had to push myself and count down the pages to help motivate myself. I will say that I liked the author's descriptions and style of writing just fine. I eased effortlessly into conversations and enjoyed the choice of vocabulary. I enjoyed his writing style, but not the story line. I'm hoping Jonathan Dee will get inspired to write a novel that he's truly passionate about because I think I would adore it! Overall, I'd say Jonathan Dee is a good writer, but not a good story teller.
It begins with a wedding! It is a perfect start to this beautiful couple¿s privileged life and this well-written narrative follows Cynthia and Adam Morey as they move to NYC, raise two gorgeous children and begin an impressive upward climb. Adam becomes a major player on Wall Street, while Cynthia becomes an ideal mother and wife. Adam is a restless, highly ambitious young man and soon finds himself dealing in the dangerous world of insider trading ,which places this highly privileged existence on a precipitous edge. Dee has crafted a good story here. His prose is sharp and crisp. It still seemed to fall short in a few places but there is still much to recommend it!
One would expect there to be a development of a sort of moral compass, it's what the reader waits for in the protagonist and his family. So bizarre that it never happens, he and his wife decide they are group zero to be uber-rich and so cut ties with their heritage. Like earlier reviews have said, the author chooses to just let it happen with interesting effect.
A well-written, sharply observed novel chronicling the ascent of Adam and Cynthia Morey, a pair of go-getters who ride the financial boom of the late nineties to social prominence and fabulous wealth. What makes this novel remarkable is the restraint that Jonathan Dee shows in telling their story. The Moreys, who are self-centered and not particularly given to self-reflection, are unlikely protagonists, but Dee refrains from judging them. Resisting the urge to score points with cheap irony or sarcasm, he describes their inner lives and motivations using clean, linear prose that betrays neither disapproval nor sympathy. The Moreys aren't Patrick Bateman-style psychopaths, or even particularly tragic figures. They're pragmatic and unimaginative to a fault, people who's taken the virtues of hard work and self-interest to their logical extremes. In Dee's narrative, their egocentricity and ethical lapses are made to seem less like personality flaws than the natural products of their particularly American, particularly modern worldviews. Adam might be guilty of insider trading, but he doesn't characterize himself as a criminal or a deviant. He and his wife are simply consummate operators who are willing to maximize every advantage life offers them. Readers seeking a Great Recession-era update to Fitzgerald's "The Beautiful and Damned" or Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities" are guaranteed to be disappointed by "The Privileges." Also notable is Dee's treatment of Jonas, the Morey's son, who endeavors to distance himself from his family's fortune in an effort to formulate a system of values unique to himself. He ends up, as many youths in his position do, becoming obsessed with popular music, and then drifts in to the world of outsider art. As a former upper-middle class record nerd, I found Jonas's yearning for "authenticity" particularly resonant, even though the author seems to conclude that everything, even authenticity, is molded by money's pervasive influence.
The beginning started slow, almost to the point that I put it down, but instead I started to care a little. The middle was great - interesting, fast paced, but by part 4 I was totally unimpressed. Once the kids were older, it just didn't grab me, I wasn't invested in them as adults, and found all the characters to have lost any dimension. The end left me more baffled than satisfied.
Life is good, very, very, good for Adam and Cynthia Morey. The Moneys, oops I mean Moreys, have lots of money thanks to Adam¿s hedge fund trading, both legitimate and illegitimate. They are self made multimillionaires who live in the gilded ward of Manhattan¿s Upper Eastside with a little place in the ¿country¿ as in the Hamptons. The Moreys also have two children, April and Jonas, who are raised to believe that every wish is entitled to fulfillment. As Cynthia angrily declares, ¿what was supposed to be the point of denying them anything?¿ In fact, Cynthia delights in the then seven year old, April¿s, designer wants (she knows to ask for Tory Burch shoes!).To say that the Privileges is a character driven novel does not mean that the novel lacks a plotline, rather the story takes a back seat to the characters¿ development. Every five years or so, the novel peeks in on the Moreys. And although time marches on, the characters follow largely predictable paths. The Moreys rarely take the time to reflect upon their actions. Nor are they particularly endearing. For instance, while the reader is repeatedly told of Adam and Cynthia¿s great love, one never gains any insight into the relationship itself. That is, what drew them together and what sustains their love other than a mutual desire for money obtained through any means? In addition, while Cynthia and Adam have largely divorced their parents from their lives the reader not given a reason for this extreme behavior other than a few throw away references to growing up in modest circumstances and, in one case, a parent¿s ill temper. In short, the characters¿ inner lives remain shrouded in mystery.The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee, is a beautifully written novel about unlikeable characters living unexamined lives.
The Priviledges: I have to admit I was fascinated with the story in this book, but expected it to end totally different. Here is a couple with every "priviledge" tons of money who live a very self absorbed life. Adam earns boatloads of money, much of it in questionable investment schemes. Cynthia lives a protected life feeling overwhelmed and bored with raising her two children, who are also offered every advantage. The characters are completelly one-sided and not very likable, even when they turn to charitable giving and foundations in their later years. I expected some resolution from them as to just how "priviledged" they were and some thought as to how they lived their whole lives unto themselves. Neither had much to do with their extended families who had their flaws but didn't deserve the neglect and contempt of their children who basically ignored them once they were established with the rich and powerful. They faced no real challenges, never went broke - I guess it was a story of our narcissistic times. I finished it, but wondered all along, just what was the point. I guess it was just a story of the "privileges'. Sad commentary on contemporary life.
An interesting read. Adam and Cynthia get married in the first section of the book. Just out of college, they are the first of their group of friends to marry. They quickly have two children, April and Jonas, and life is good. Adam is extremely successful financially - he works in hedge funds. His success is mostly achieved legally. Cynthia stays at home with the children and it all progresses. The author drops in on the family in about 5-7 year periods. The reader sees the changes in the family although Adam and Cynthia never stray - they are too in love to do so. Eventually we follow the children's lives as much as the parents. April is hanging out with a wild group of kids who aimlessly do drugs and abuse alcohol because they can. She has a serious scare and her parents ship her off to China on a trip with her dad. Meanwhile, Jonas, studying at U. of Chicago, gets himself in trouble when he seeks out an obscure artist in Wisconsin. Some of this is a bit bizarre as a part of the book as a whole. All in all, interesting, linear, well-written, and ultimately satisfying.
I found "The Privileges" a novel without much of a story. I'm sad to say that when I got to the end I said to myself, "So what?". And that apathy makes it really hard for me to write a meaningful review for this book.I found the characters of each of the four family members interesting. Perhaps that's what made the story seem watered down and incomplete. I could've read an entire novel that elucidated on each of their stories; but splitting the story between them made the whole seem fragmented and incomplete. I wanted more!
In his new novel Jonathan Dee introduces us to a young, beautiful couple, Cynthia and Adam Morey, who are quickly moving up in society and into the world of the newly wealthy and ultimately the very wealthy. The story begins with their traditional big wedding; soon after they have two children, April and Jonas. Most of the story takes place in New York where Adam begins his career in the financial world and goes on to span several decades of their life.While I found these characters interesting and at times compelling, it was difficult to like them or care about them. Adam seemed obsessed with making more and more money. This drove him to make some shady financial dealings which could cost him everything. At what point does one have enough money? Why take these kind of risks? The children took their wealth for granted and didn't seem to have much concept of where the money came from or what things cost. They were interesting in the same way a train wreck draws curiosity. In spite of all their wealth and privilege they are very naive and find themselves in dangerous situations.The book is written four sections with each one jumping forward five to tens years. At times it became a little difficult to follow because the jumps in time required some reorientation and left it to the reader to fill in what happened during those skipped over years. I thought the ending was a bit abrupt. I found myself wanting more, wanting to know what happens next. But we are left to assume.
I read this book because it was recommended by Jonathan Franzen to the New Yorker book club. It is another modern family show story, with a major focus on the children after they grow into adulthood (just barely). The couple in this story is very wealthy, as a result of the husband's talent for predicting the success or failure of companies and then making the correct investments in them. And, also as a result of his willingness to bend some of the rules regarding the use of insider information.I missed the husband's perspective in the final section of the book, where the author focusses mostly on the children. We see him full on only a couple of times. The book is successful to an extent, but I believe that it does not come to any sort of resolution to the arc that it took for the children. I could not really tell where they are headed at the end of the book.
I never would have believed I would feel sympathetic toward the filthy rich--much more fun to watch their downfall with glee--especially when much of their money was made illegally. But Adam and Cynthia are really not BAD people, just bored, impatient and looking for purpose. The novel begins at their wedding. Adam is the charming golden boy whom everybody loves, Cynthia a bit more cynical and critical. The novel follows their marriage through 2 children and 25 years--more of a study of their characters and their sustained love than a plot-driven narrative. Their isolation and estrangement from their families becomes strikingly apparent when Cynthia meets her father's girlfriend at his deathbed. Their two children suffer the consequences of their privileged upbringing; I loved their son Jonas, whose search for autheniticity almost costs him his life.This is an early readers review--the novel goes on sale in January 2010. I will definitely recommend it to my library to purchase.
The most telling quote of this book for me was early on in the story. Cynthia, a young bride on her wedding day, is thinking back to the planning for the event. The groom, Adam, had been in favor of something simpler, ¿But the truth was that that wouldn't have seemed unusual enough to Cynthia, too little distinct from a typical Saturday night out drinking and dancing with their friends, just with fancier clothes and a worse band. She wasn't completely sure why the idea should appeal to her at all ¿ the big schmaltzy wedding, the sort of wedding for which everyone would have to make travel plans ¿ but she didn't make a habit of questioning her wants.¿Not questioning one's wants is what this book is about. It is about people who feel so entitled that their very wanting something justifies getting it, and the means necessary to do so. This proves true throughout Adam and Cynthia's life together. Though they do seem to love and be faithful to one another ¿ their main commonality seems not to be desire for each other, but desire for things, for status, for power, for the bigger and better and faster and newer.This kind of thinking also shapes their parenting skills. When reflecting on her children, Cynthia thinks, ¿What was supposed to be the point of denying them anything? Who decided that not having things that your parents hadn't had either was character building somehow?¿ ¿And what was the point of getting hung up on how much things cost?¿I must have read that sentence about not denying your children anything at least three times. Though I know that sentiment is out there, even in parents that can't afford to live by that way of reasoning, the thought makes me almost ill. The children that result from the absence of the word ¿no¿ in their lives are not ones that will neither live happy nor productive lives, nor be people I hope to encounter very often.April, Adam and Cynthia's daughter, certainly proves this to be true. ¿If, in a given activity, there was a next step to be taken ¿ a taller cliff to dive from, purer drugs to try, something bigger and more difficult to steal ¿ someone, at some point, was going to take that step, it was like a law of nature, and so let the record reflect that that someone was her.¿This thought is a mirror of one her father has - ¿That was it: everything was open to them. What was life's object if not that? Adam knew on some level that he had to get as much money out of those Anguillian accounts as possible and shut them down, but more than that he wanted to just spend it all on the three of them, as orgiastically, challenge his family to come up with desires they hadn't even thought of yet and then make those desires real.¿This is a book about people I don't understand and don't admire in the least. That is not to say it's a bad book, it's a story well and probably accurately told about people who have egos and desires even bigger than their grotesquely large bank accounts.(On a side note? There was one laugh out loud moment when the Hamptons are referred to as ¿a game preserve for rich people¿.)¿The Privileges¿ is a book about the ultra rich...and the children of the ultra rich. It's about a world that few of us understand and even fewer will ever experience. It's about a mindset that doesn't see any ramifications from one's actions, as long as those actions benefit oneself. It's a story that seems lurking behind the eyes of more and more people on the news these days...those people who are finally realizing that their privileges can't always save them from themselves.
In Jonathan Dee¿s new novel, the characters learn that freedom is not another word for nothing less to lose. It is a symbol of nothing left to gain. Readers have a close-up view of a way they will never be, living in privilege beyond the pale. We are fascinated outsiders who are able to crash the parties, activities, and minds of the possessors of significant wealth. Dee introduces families and friends at the wedding of Adam and Cynthia celebrated in the hinterlands of Pittsburgh. Personality revealing vignettes are presented simultaneously, one character thinking about the no-barriers future while another trades stories of a gilded history with a lifelong friend at a blue collar bar.Although we have observed second hand and with great fascination the privileged class, Dee¿s skillful narrative puts readers right in the room with them. We are so close that I was embarrassed by the clothing I was wearing while reading the novel. Like Proust¿s description of nobility in The Guermantes Way, we can understand the characters¿ motivations, thoughts, and actions but can only imagine the other-worldly dimensions of their consciousness.Even when Dee allows us to live later with Adam and Cynthia and their two children, April and Jonas, we think we know them while having only limited insight into their character. Each of the four family members¿ personalities unfold within very wide boundaries compared to the cramped structures of our own lives. The dimensions of the world of significant wealth are so far-flung that the characters try to observe the values of others less fortunate to find some irreducible starting point. Of course, in the novel there is no such absolute zero, no standard to anchor a unifying philosophy. On the other end of the spectrum, there is no class above them. The best the family members can do is rely on solipsism and develop rules of conduct and understanding that are unique to each person but with intersecting areas that keep the family together with a very close bond.The mind views of Adam, Cynthia, April, and Jonas encompass the realm of infinite personal wealth. The assumption of nothing left to gain makes past mistakes, indiscretions, and illegal money building strategies irrelevant to their present noble life. So, the family members keep running (literally for Adam) with the exercise privately timed and juggled to situations leaving readers in the dust. When local and world history change, these privileged characters naturally repurpose information, and moral relativism becomes too restrictive, too passé. The four main characters are forever time-urgent and predictably other-serving rather than self-serving. Adam, for example, has a rather heroic personal code of conduct as strict and meaningful as Hemingway¿s Robert Jordon in For Whom the Bell Tolls, but it is determined by the life of the mind rather than the life of action.This is a top notch novel that involves a great story, detailed character development, and a liberating unifying philosophy. We readers can see that we have the privileges in spades, in our own minds. I highly recommend this novel for readers to enjoy and gain an intimate perspective on the contemporary families who are beyond the social register, beyond condescension, like Proust¿s Guermantes.
For about 2/3 of the book I was in love with it. I was there with the characters. I felt what they felt - maybe because I understood some of the sentiments of the young mother with young children. The author has a beautiful voice. I connected not just with what he was saying, but how he said it. Even once the characters lives - especially their immense wealth and social bearing in NYC - moved beyond the scope of my personal experience. But something happened in the last half of the book. To me, it became a different book. I was enjoying floating along with this family, the way their aspirations and wealth had molded them, their children, without actually changing who they always were destined to be. But I was disappointed with the ending. I am left with a sour taste in my mouth. I actually like the way Cynthia's story ends, it seemed fitting. But I didn't understand Jonas' ending, maybe because it wasn't really an ending. And Adam and April became mere afterthoughts. I can't explain my ultimate dissatisfaction any more than I can explain my initial infatuation with the book. It is merely visceral. But again I will return to this. The author has a beautiful, accessible voice. I enjoyed it. I am on the fence about whether or not I would recommend this book. Despite not caring for the direction it took or the ending, I did adore the beginning. I would definitely read this author's other works.
I also read the Franzen review . By the end of the book I was mystified by Franzen's comment "aren't we supposed to despise these people?" because I most certainly did. The main characters Adam and Cynthia are cold, calculating, dishonest and narcissistic , perhaps even sociopathic. I didn't find their transformation from strivers to philanthropists convincing at all, unless it was just completely about ego and promoting their "brand". Halfway through the book, I actually thought they were going to receive their come-uppance, but no, they just get richer. Actually, maybe that is true in contemporary life as well, an individual "too big to fail" trajectory, but as a reader it isn't very satisfying. Are there people out there who really believe charity is a substitute for fair wages and basic human rights? My children are sons and daughters of a pipefitter. If any of then turned out like these two, I'd cut their throats myself.The writing was beautiful though, and I will definitely read something else by Jonathan Dee in the future. To be fair, I'm just the wrong person for this story.Pat
This book is the second book profiling a marriage from start to finish that I've read in the past year. The first book was Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel. I don't know if my subconscious is pulling me towards these books because I'm getting married next year or what. In The Privileges, I kept waiting for them to fall out of love. Watching TV shows and movies, I'm become jaded in expecting marriages to fall apart. In a way it was hard to believe that two people so well off wouldn't be cheating on each other. I'm glad that Jonathan Dee provided a positive example of a wealthy couple still loving each other after a decade of marriage even if it's a fictional couple.Most of the story is told from the parents' view point, but there are some sections of the book from the kids' point of view as well. We learn a lot about Cynthia's family but not much about Adam's. They are only mentioned in the opening wedding scene and Conrad's visit in NYC later on. In a way I felt the book was a little slated towards Cynthia and her problems.I thought an interesting characteristic of Cynthia was her gut reaction to fix any problem was her checkbook. And when she found a situation that couldn't be fixed by her checkbook she was lost. Again, I'm curious if this characteristic is found in many wealthy housewives or it was just exaggerated for the plot of this book.I also found it interesting that Cynthia and Adam moved from apartment to apartment within the city and finally to a house on Long Island. In a way, Dee pointed out that wealthy folks don't end up in the big mansions right away. They move around "upgrading" each time they buy. I did appreciate in the last third of the book that Adam and Cynthia focused on giving away their money to others to help "make a difference." They reminded me of the work that Bill and Melinda Gates are doing through their foundation. This book was a great surprise and was a quick read. I would recommend it to readers who are fans of the TV show Gossip Girl or the book Nanny Diaries.
Haven't we all dreamed of being wealthy and privileged at some point in our lives? Well, The Privileges is the story of what some people are willing to do to achieve that life of wealth and privilege. The novel follows the Morey family from its beginnings with the marriage of Adam and Cynthia to the beginnings of adulthood for their children, April and Jonas. The story is presented in four snapshots of the Morey family. After the wedding in section one, the other three sections center around different phases of the children's lives including elementary school, high school and college age.I'm not typically a reader of examinations of American families, but this book had enough to keep me engaged. I was struck almost immediately by the author's straightforward, declarative prose. It was this coupled with my desire to know whether Adam's actions would catch up with him and his family that kept me reading. In the end, The Privileges had me wondering, "Was it worth it?" "Did a life of privilege make for a better life?" I made a pretty quick decision and moved on with my life.Bottom line? If you enjoy reading about American families and their inner workings, I think you'll enjoy The Privileges. If not, check to see if any of Dee's other books sound more appealing. His writing style deserves a read.
Shows how a strong couple holds their marriage and family together in the context of extreme wealth. A theme across many characters concerned the risks and potential rewards of living in the moment and not reflecting on the past. For the main protagonists, this perspective is richly rewarded by the financial industry. I think the perspective may also may be a key to the couple's strong marriage in so far as they continually choose one another. However, the perspective doesn't play out as well for their children or other relatives, giving the book a moral message about the thin line between success and tragedy in modern life. The theme is also repeated through a mentally ill artist that acts out impulsively and is obsessively stuck in repetitive art. His art comes from working without any apparent consciousness or ambition, which reinforces his pathetic life and also almost earns him widespread recognition and fame. The novel led me to reflect on family, love, parenthood, ambition, and the fairness of society. Great humane writing throughout.
The book is well- written but , for me , did not live up to the raves on the jacket . One review said it is about the new American family . I hope this is not the case . Except for very minor characters, none inspired me . In fact, I would not care to know any of them . I also hated the ending - which I felt just tailed off .