The Privileges finally gives a real satire of almost-present day New York City, in which money is discussed and no one has to learn their lesson."/>

Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 03.08.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Not A Learning Experience


I bought The Privileges after reading James Wood’s review in the New Yorker, so cold and hard and cynical did he make the book sound. Finally, a real satire of almost-present day New York City, in which money is discussed and no one has to learn their lesson. It seemed like the dark side of the UES/mommy/money beach books, Nanny Diaries, Wolves in Chic Clothing, etc. in which the reader is to identify with some slightly frumpy (but naturally pretty!) outsider, and the perfect other women must eventually be taken down a notch. The Privileges’ golden couple, the Moreys, only go up and up and up, and all they learn is that life gets better as you rise.

When I have tried to write satire, I have always foundered on plot, and for the first three of the book’s four sections, author Jonathan Dee doesn’t offer much. Yes, people get married and cheat and do drugs, but I was more enthralled by the extreme control of tone he achieves—semi-omniscent narration, with an undercurrent of rage—and the details of our protagonists’ lives. It is a fleshing out of the world suggested on the anonymous mommy blogs, in which people talk about why they need a full-time nanny and housekeeper despite not working outside the home. The details seemed spot-on in terms of schools and neighborhoods and trappings, without the shorthand of brand name-dropping. Cynthia Morey clearly sees herself as a Gwyneth, without the acting.

But then, in Part 4, things start to happen. New characters are introduced. Someone dies. The Moreys leave the golden circle of Manhattan, Amagansett, Anguilla. Their son Jonas takes an interest in, of all things, Outsider Art. And the novel lost me. It felt as if Dee had grown afraid of the book’s nihilism, or thought we hadn’t gotten the point that rich people don’t have to grow, except richer. The scenes in Florida, and particularly in Chicago, are awkward and unbelievable. Explanations and descriptions of various outsider artists’ work are dropped in. There are proper names and proper places. I wanted it to end on a high, poisonous note of triumph. All that glitters. But instead I was confused and disappointed. And that’s something no Morey would ever want to be.

(BTW, this is not the final cover. But I like this version much better than the insipid “society” photo Random House ended up using.)

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

More books by contributors >>

RELATED POSTS


The Public Library
“The public library is a singularly American invention.” An excerpt from the new book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay.

De Vinne at the Grolier Club in New York
A review of the Grolier Club’s quiet, yet noteworthy exhibition, “The Dean of American Printers: Theodore Low De Vinne and The Art Preservative of All Arts”.

The Filmic Page: Chris Marker's Commentaires
The French director Chris Marker’s book Commentaires is as innovative as book design as his documentaries are as films.

Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again
Raoul Hausmann’s photomontage Tatlin at Home is much pinned on Pinterest, but what has become of the original?

Speaking Typography: Letter as Image as Sound
Just as a poet weaves the intent of his poem into its sound and craft, so did Lissitzky, as designer, hope to marry intent with the typography and the design of the book itself. But did he?