Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Priviliges by Jonathan Dee

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee begins with a large festive wedding in Philadelphia, where Cynthia and Adam, both in their early 20s, marry. After the marriage, the couple moves to NYC where Adam pursues a job in finance and they have two children, Jonas and April. Cynthia quits work to raise the children, and when the kids are old enough for her to return to work, she realizes that she has burned her professional bridges.
The family becomes wealthier and wealthier, due in no small part to Adam's participation in insider trading, and Cynthia begins to serve on the board of charities (this becomes a type of career for her, almost). The family is very insular; they have few friends, and maintain tepid family ties~the children know their grandparents vaguely. When the wife tells her husband that she is seeing a psychologist, he is surprised and thinks to himself, "One of the things that made the two of them so great together....was their shared talent for leaving all of their baggage behind."
With The Privileges, Jonathan Dee seems to be suggesting that without family structure that people can easily descend into amoral behavior; ie it wasn't difficult for Adam to justify his participation in insider trading. His wife only found out about it years later.
The book floated along very placidly, and Dee dips into the perspectives of the four main characters (Adam, Cynthia, Jonas and April) which made for a quick read. But what I really wanted to see was something go really askew in the family; ie Adam has an affair, Cynthia reveals she had had a child in her teenage years but had given it up for adoption, much to the trauma of her current children, or for Adam to be caught for the inside trading. It was as though in the entire book the characters were skating on really thin ice but no one actually fell through.
Had they fallen through, it may have served as a catalyst for the characters to change, but instead they all remained extremely unlikeable throughout the entire book; the semi-catastrophes that befell the family only revealed how much of a total bitch Cynthia really was; her step sister lived in the same city but Cynthia never knew until she has a mental breakdown (the step sister) and then Cynthia only allows her to stay one night at their apartment before she drives her to the airport the next day, and when Cynthia's father dies, she is a total ice-queen to his girlfriend.
It really is remarkable, now that i think about it, how this family stayed in tack at all. Do you really think that Adam would have stayed married to someone who was such a bitch? Hm, I don't know. Which is probably one the biggest criticisms that I would make of the book, is that the story doesn't seem conceivable. Adam and Cynthia don't seem strong enough to have built their filthy rich empires on only themselves; people really need the support of a relatively in-tact family to establish wealth and successful careers, I have seen anyway in my own experience.
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