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'The Privileges,' by Jonathan Dee

THE PRIVILEGES, by Jonathan Dee. Random House, 258 pages, $25.

Adam Morey is an impatient young private-equity honcho. He's getting rich, but not fast enough, and he's tired of waiting for his boss to decide how much money he's worth.

So he turns to insider trading.

In "The Privileges," novelist Jonathan Dee succeeds at the difficult task of making Adam sympathetic - if you don't think about it too hard.

The book opens with Adam's wedding to Cynthia, his college girlfriend, and it's a 27-page tour de force, swooping in and out of the thoughts of everyone from the wedding planner ("They weren't the most gracious people in the world, but in the end they were willing to spend what needed to be spent") to the maid of honor, who lets her boyfriend act out a sexual fantasy after the party (" 'Who's to say what's creepy?' she thinks").

Cynthia comes back from their honeymoon pregnant, and the Moreys embark on lives as moneyed Manhattanites. Adam quickly becomes heir apparent at his private-equity firm. Cynthia shuttles their children, April and Jonas, to the prestigious Dalton School.

"The Privileges" feels very of-the-moment during this time of unfolding Ponzi schemes and financial instability, but unlike those other Jonathans - Franzen, Lethem and Safran Foer - Dee doesn't drop pop-culture references.

That fits the Moreys' sensibilities: They live in an eternal now.

Adam knows he'll get rich from his day job, but why wait? He wants to seize his own future and drag it into the present, so he jumps on the opportunity when he connects with a stockbroker at a party. Adam provides information and the broker trades on it, using a web of friends and small bank accounts.

It's hard to think of another writer who would present a scheme like Adam's and let him get away with it, but Dee is more interested in figuring out what makes people like Adam and Cynthia tick than in seeing them punished for their transgressions.

Cynthia is the weak link here. She can be a vivid presence: talking dirty with the maid of honor at her wedding, teaching April and Jonas to play poker during an endless afternoon at home. But when she turned restless, I wanted to tell her to get a job. Surely, with her connections, it shouldn't have been hard.

Dee is a sharp observer of everything from the joy and tedium of raising small children to the vulgarity of newly built mansions. Here he is on Adam's boss' house in Connecticut: "In its inappropriateness the house was so self-absorbed that it could have sprung fully formed from the head of Sanford's awful wife; still, the sheer ballsiness of it, the arrogance required to raze whatever must have been here before in order to erect this monstrosity precisely where it didn't belong, was kind of impressive."

Just like Dee's ballsiness at taking the people who would have been the villains of most books and making them his heroes.

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