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The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

The New Yorker reviewer James Wood beat me to reviewing The Privileges by Jonathan Dee, doing a much better job of it, of course. (Beware —contains some plot spoilers.) Like him, though, I was struck by the jacket copy calling The Privileges “an odyssey of a couple touched by fortune, changed by time, and guided above all else by their epic love for each other.” The Privileges is a compelling story of two narcissists with ambitions that coincide, whose physical beauty, family connections, and boldness ensure them money and power, but romantic love story? No.
The Privileges begins with the golden couple, Adam and Cynthia Morey,  getting married young, quickly discarding parents and their pasts; then leaps forward to the couple in their New York City apartment, dissatisfied with their stalled upward mobility — him, in the financial sector without an MBA; her, at home with two young children. Later, another leap, and the Moreys’ grown children become characters, young adults struggling in the cocoon of their parents’ now-immense wealth.
Adam and Cynthia Morey are fascinating, the way a glittering-eyed cobra is. Were you to meet them in real life (in the rarefied circles of New York philanthropy or finance) you wouldn’t really like them. And they would barely acknowledge your existence.
If you liked The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (whose blurb is prominently on the front cover), pick up this memorable novel (the author’s fifth) of characters seemingly headed full-tilt for self-destruction or, at least, comeuppance.
Jonathan Dee is a former senior editor of The Paris Review and teaches in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University and the New School.

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