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The Privileges: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – October 5, 2010

3.2 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Dee's four prior novels (Palladio; etc.) cast an intelligent, calculating eye on the culturally topical, which sparked comparisons to the writings of Updike, DeLillo and Franzen. The wedding of Adam and Cynthia Morey, a young and charming couple who quickly expand into a brood of four, begins Dee's fifth. Adam and Cynthia's nuanced personalities and playful, sincere exchanges form the novel's empathic backbone as Adam begins to profit immensely from risky side ventures while working for a hedge fund. Dee establishes a trust with his readers that allows Adam's murky business ethics to escape the spotlight of outright moral scrutiny, and by showing how Adam endangers his privilege—while his children endanger their own lives—Dee reveals how risk is a kind of numbing balm. April, Adam's daughter, responds to the boredom of material comfort by resorting to drug-induced self-effacement. The novel climaxes as the children face the possibility of their own death, though lucidity after mortal danger is fleeting: I can feel myself forgetting what it feels like to feel, April says. Dee notably spurns flat portraits of greed, instead letting the characters' self-awareness and self-forgetfulness stand on their own to create an appealing portrait of a world won by risk. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Booklist

In his previous four novels, Dee has dramatized peculiarly American forms of absurdity and moral bankruptcy with search-and-destroy precision and calculated understatement. That approach serves him well in this ensnaring tale of alienating wealth, in which Dee breaks fresh artistic ground with the sheer beauty and quiet poignancy of his prose. Picture-perfect and ferociously confident and ambitious Adam and Cynthia marry right out of college and quickly have children, April and Jonas. Adam excels at a private equity firm in Manhattan, but, impatient for the big money, he also launches a high-stakes insider-trading venture. The gleaming Moreys become so impossibly rich they don’t seem quite human to others, and, of course, money doesn’t preclude suffering. Dee deftly avoids cliché as Adam and Cynthia go against type by being fiercely loyal to each other, April takes desperate risks, and Jonas, the brightest and most creative of the clan, embarks on an inquiry into outsider art that lands him in a strange and terrifying predicament. A suspenseful, melancholy, and acidly funny tale about self, family, entitlement, and life’s mysteries and inevitabilities. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812980794
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812980790
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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