Thursday, May 27, 2010

"The Privileges" by Jonathan Dee, reviewed by Karen Kachra

New York: Random House, 2010.

What’s it like to make it into the inner circle of Manhattan’s megawealthy? This is the world we readers enter step by step with the Morey family, power couple Adam and Cynthia, and their children April and Jonas.

The book’s first chapter is a tour de force that details Adam and Cynthia’s wedding as self-righteous college graduates. Cynthia is already pregnant on their honeymoon, and the couple is kick-started into family life.

Although Adam lands a high-earning job on Wall Street he decides to augment his growing wealth by starting up a ponzi scheme. As the years go by, money makes more and more possible for the Morey’s. In the end, they own a jet, a palace in the Hamptons, and regularly vacation in Anguilla. And yet the bonds of family become less and less secure.

Dee’s prose is eloquent and powerful and his characters so vivid that my imagination is still haunted by them, one month after I’ve closed the book. He has a pitch perfect ear for dialogue and a satirical wit. He deals with weighty themes such as success, family and wealth with great care.

As literary novelists do, Dee breaks a few rules. The first chapter narrative jumps in and out of the points of view of dozens of characters, most of whom we never encounter again. And can the hook for a novel really be the broad question “what will happen to these people?” It can. I found myself eagerly turning the pages, and crowing to my husband that I’d discovered an author named Jonathan Dee. (Dee has in fact written four other novels and is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine.) In the end, I felt simply privileged to have read The Privileges.

Karen Kachra loves nothing better than reading a good book, except maybe her own family. She lives in Oakville, where she teaches philosophy and writes short stories and novels, completely unconcerned that she is not on pace to megawealth.

Sample her writing at www.karenkachra.com

For information about Brian Henry’s writing workshops and creative writing courses, see here.

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