Sunday, 18 August 2019

Growing wealth, endless greed

The Privileges Jonathan Dee's The Privileges is less a story, more a character study of a family. It's divided into four parts. In part one, we join Adam Morey and his fiancee Cynthia on their wedding day. Six years later, in part two, the couple have two small children, April and Jonas. By part three, the children are teenagers, and in the fourth section April and Jonas are in their early twenties.

The narrative explores Adam and Cynthia's growing wealth and endless greed. Even when "there was enough for them to live on for the rest of their lives," Adam still thought of money only in terms "of how it might be used to make more money." Adam has no qualms about boosting his funds by insider trading, and Cynthia is often contemptuous of anyone outside her close family, such as "those moms she despised, the ones you made small talk with while you waited for your kid." The fortune they amassed didn't make their children happy. April was "scared of poor people" and had no idea how to fill her days other than by getting wasted on drugs and alcohol. Jonas, whose "first minute of brain activity after waking generated so much anxiety" found some meaning in music and in studying art, but is unable to renounce his privilege, agreeing to let his mother "send the jet for him so he could at least spend a week at home."

The Morey family is overwhelmingly isolated and self-absorbed. They may be involved in charitable giving, but their relentless pursuit of wealth, their sense of privilege and how they treat others make them morally corrupt. It reminded me of Thackeray's Vanity Fair with its subtitle "A Novel without a Hero. There are no heroes in Jonathan Dee's book either.

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