By Gwendolyn Dawson
Jonathan Dee’s latest novel follows Cynthia and Adam Morey, a loving couple leading a charmed life ensconced within “a zone of privilege.” Surrounded by friends and family, Adam and Cynthia get married young and quickly produce two beautiful children. Adam’s career in a private equity firm in Manhattan is progressing well while Cynthia stays home with the children. As they get a glimpse of the fairy tale life led by the super wealthy, the Moreys yearn for even more financial success, leading Adam to make riskier and riskier decisions. Eventually, Adam crosses over into illegal territory, supplementing his substantial income from the private equity firm with even more millions stashed in offshore accounts.
As Adam’s decisions descend into ethical ambiguity, Dee maintains a nonjudgmental perspective. Rather than a novel preaching against financial malfeasance, The Privileges is a sympathetic portrait of a family that slowly becomes comfortable crossing the line. Throughout, Adam and Cynthia remain completely in love. Even their troubled son Jonas recognizes his parents’ strong connection: “They are just really in love with each other, in this kind of epic way. … That’s the real context of everything they do — each other. The other stud is just kind of outside the walls.”
Dee tells the Morey’s story in four sections, separated from each other by large gaps in time. This technique allows Dee to focus intently on specific incidents in the family’s life while still managing to cover a large expanse of time in relatively few pages. In the novel’s fourth and final section, the children’s incidental dramas and Cynthia’s final interactions with her father draw the attention away from the prior focus on Adam’s career and its associated ethical dilemmas. This ending, while anticlimactic, is interesting enough not to taint the more compelling story of the prior sections.
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee is published in the United States by Random House.
Gwendolyn Dawson is the founder of Literary License. Her reviews appear there and here every Wednesday.