three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
By: 
Jonathan Dee
user_rating: 
0

A-PrivilegesJonathan Dee is the author of St. Famous, The Liberty Campaign, and Palladio. A former editor at The Paris Review, Dee currently teaches graduate writing courses at Columbia University.

The Story: In The Privileges, Dee chronicles the marriage of Adam and Cynthia Morey, from their relatively modest beginnings to their elevation into the world of the super-rich. The Moreys are a golden couple: attractive, successful, and seemingly invincible. Adam works at a private equity firm while Cynthia spends her days with their two young children. When Adam decides to dabble in insider trading, the family enters a world of privilege beyond their wildest dreams. But does money really buy happiness? Conversely, is doing something amoral really all that hard?
Random House. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781400068678

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"At the core of this intelligent and ambitious book are questions about values. … Dee’s writing is so full of elegance, vitality and complexity that I’m happy to entertain any notion he comes up with." Roxana Robinson

Salon.com 4 of 5 Stars
"[C]aptivating. … [S]hrewdly realistic, even a bit gossipy." Laura Miller

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Composed in Dee’s typically elegant style—gorgeous, winding sentences in which high diction and low brush up against each other." Joanna Smith Rakoff

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Dee’s luminous prose never falters; he’s a master. Alas, the same can’t be said for readers’ emotional investment." Leah Greenblatt

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Dee is a remarkably skilled portraitist with a rare talent for rendering his characters’ points of view with deep empathy. … But he’s also made the curious, perhaps brave, decision to withhold any implicit criticism of the felonious Adam and his grasping wife." Joseph Finder

Critical Summary

Dee’s polished, precise prose has earned him favorable comparisons to literary luminaries Jonathan Franzen and the late John Updike. Critics universally acknowledged Privileges as a beautifully written work of fiction as well as a departure from his previous novels, which showcased characters living on the fringes of the über-wealthy. Several reviewers were skeptical, however, of the novel’s widespread appeal given the unsympathetic and ethically-challenged protagonists. Without giving everything away, Privileges is not your stereotypical morality tale. Sometimes not-so-bad people do bad things and maybe get away with them. So what happens then? That said, The Washington Post was left frustrated by the book’s ending. Still, it’s not every day that reviewers describe an author’s writing as elegant, shimmering, graceful, masterful, captivating, delicious, and dazzling.