30 Books in 30 Days: 8.13.11

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

We are familiar with books that depict the lives of the rich and famous.  Whether a book shows wealth as a wonderful world of escape for the reader or whether a book portrays wealth as a negative influence that causes pain for everyone involved, it is fun to immerse ourselves for a few hundred pages into the worlds of the wealthy.

But, escapist read this book is not.  It is instead a thought-provoking investigation into a character’s almost sociological experiment, one which pushes the limits of wealth and success.

The catch?  Author Jonathan Dee puts us inside the mind of the wealthy and successful main character, portraying him as someone sympathetic, someone even boyish and innocent, someone close to us, the readers.  We feel, somehow, like rooting for him, even as he makes rather questionable decisions.

What do you do when you have it all?  When you have reached the pinnacle of success and still have more life to live?  When you want more and are capable of more?  Is success enough?  When you’ve reached massive success, where do you go from there?  And, even more interesting, and also perhaps even more relevant for future generations, what do children of privilege do?  When everything has been given to you, when you want for nothing, when you know that any adventure, challenge, experience is open to you, that there are no limits, what do you do?  The answer to that question is something that author Jonathan Dee considers carefully.  The children of the main character and his wife are the characters who most captured my sympathy and interest in this novel.  Dee’s portrayal of their rather unique and strange predicament is something I haven’t thought much about.  And the ways these two children deal with their parents’ success as well as their parents’ god-like power is initially surprising, but then ultimately, quite fitting.  And sad.

The only problem I had with the book is that sometimes, so intent is Dee on investigating the ramifications of his philosophical question, that he spares scene development and characterization.  At times the narrative moves rather quickly through years and scenes, providing short, intense glimpses into moments in the characters’ lives, but, I yearned for more.  Perhaps I simply want 200 more pages in this book, where the author can slow down and fully evoke the three-dimensional scenes of these characters’ lives.  Because of the schematic tendency in some scenes, halfway through the book, I lost some of the connection Dee did a very good job of creating in his earlier chapters.

Bottom line:  Dee is a skilled writer, and the scenes of New York City investment banking life are spot on.  Read this and ponder.  Read this and consider the ethics of privilege.

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