The Privileges and Dear Money

31xremq2MlL._SL500_AA240_ If you are in a book club, and are willing to do two books, The Privileges read with Dear Money could make for some very interesting conversation. 

The Privileges is a book that I found disturbing on so many levels.  Couple meets in college, gets married and becomes uber-wealthy.  There is a detachment to their life growing up that the author attempts to give us glimpses of at different times during the book.  But in essence, the book tells the tale of an Upper East Side couple.  He is a big banker who seems bored by what he does.  He takes risks such as insider trading that allows him not only serious buckets of cash stored in various bank accounts all over the globe and there is no doubt something about the risk that turns him on.  His wife, who appears to be a young cool Mom is shallow and completely disconnected from reality.  Need I go on?  Is the author writing about the bankers at Goldman Sachs and their families?  He could be writing about a variety of people.

The book moves fast.  Eventually the kids grow up.  I thought that because the wife appeared to be around for the kids that they might grow up to be good people but they don't.  The daughter is on a ticket to nowhere pretending to be like a Paris Hilton.  The son, although he does want to find his place in the art world and do good, he finds himself in a ridiculous situation that he is ill-equipped for.  In the end, he falls back on the safety of the money.  No values or morals taught here.

There is a part where the wife's father is dying and she goes down to see him after being disconnected from him for years.  She pays off the supposed girlfriend so she can spend time alone with him.  Showing that she only understands the power of cash or that she is living on such a level that she can't trust anyone anymore.  Not sure what the author is trying to say.

I found the book disturbing.  I live in NYC, I don't personally know people like this but I am absolutely sure they exist.  Nothing to be learned here.

Then my friend gave me Dear Money which is a new book that will be out in June written by Martha McPhee.  You can pre-order it on Amazon by clicking on Dear Money.  McPhee is talking about the exact same people but she does it in a way that anyone can relate to.  It is clever and thought provoking.  I loved that I read it right after The Privileges.

Dear Money is about 2 artists.  She comes from money, he doesn't.  Regardless of her fathers warning that she will have a hard time living on an artists salary, she marries him.  He is a sculptor, she is an author.  They live in NYC.  Their kids are in private school, they are living in a rent controlled apartment that is falling apart, one kid needs a special doctor, etc..  Bottom line, they can barely make ends meet.  Their good friends have ample cash.  He is a banker and life always seems easy for them.  She can buy the clothes she wants, pay the bills, give money to the MET and go to the big parties.  They get invited along to their friends events but inside, the author is freaked.  Although she loves her husband, she wants to have the life that her friend appears to have.  Risk free, bills paid, etc.  There is always someone richer and always someone poorer.  As an artist, she is finding herself frustrated by her line of work and trying to keep up with the Jones.

She meets a man who is an incredibly successful bond trader.  He wants to make her his project, like an Eliza Doolittle.  Eventually she succumbs and becomes unbelievable good at it.  She loves it.  Financially their world changes over night.  Their friends with the banker husband, he quits and becomes a writer.  A total switch. The friends end up in some ways like the starving artists making ends meet like she and her husband used to be. 

A topic rarely talked about.  Money is a very strange thing.  You really never knows what goes on inside peoples homes.  I've met people who have an incredible wardrobe, go on amazing trips, have kids in private school but their homes are empty. 

One book being about uber-wealthy people who although give back freely at one point of the game, have raised disgusting valueless children with no moral highway.  They are also so out of touch with reality because money has allowed them that.  On the other hand, you have a couple who is financially strapped attempting to keep up wtih the Jones wanting to live a certain life that they can't afford but now she makes choices to live the way she wants to live.  She goes for the cash.  Choices for everyone that can't be judged but can certainly be talked about in a juicy book club. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. chefbikram

    both of these sound too “low-brow” — for a book club?

    1. Gotham Gal

      I understand what you are saying but I do believe they make for someinteresting conversation. Money is a very strange thing. It is notsomething people feel comfortable discussing and both these books bring theelephant in the room right to the party.Joanne [email protected]://www.gothamgal.comCell 917-496-8768Home 212-994-5321

  2. Martha McPhee

    I was so thrilled to see this post about Dear Money. Thank you Joanne Wilson! I did want to respond to chefbikram — just to say that Dear Money is definitely not low brow. It’s a fast-paced literary novel that explores the banking bubble through a Pygmalion story — novelist transformed by Wall Street tycoon into an MBS trader. What does the starving artist think and, more importantly, do in this age where wealth means everything. I haven’t read Dee’s novel yet so have no idea if it succeeds, but am certain that it is not low brow either as he is a beautiful stylist. I think Joanne’s pairing is inspired. Adam Haslett’s novel Union Atlantic could fit into this discussion too. Thanks. And please know how wonderful it is to come upon this. For writers, it means the world to have their books discussed. So thanks to both of you.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks so much for commenting. I really loved the book.

  3. Jenny McPhee

    Dear Gotham Gal, (full disclosure: Martha is my sister) I really appreciated your review of both of these books, but of course Martha’s in particular. She does take the subject of money head on and indeed how the desire for it shapes character and plot. As you say, this does seem to be a theme lacking in contemporary novels (with the exception of Martin Amis’s Money). But this was not always so by a long shot. The Victorian novelists were obsessed by money–any Trollope novel fits the bill but especially The Way We Live Now and The Eustace Diamonds. Others are Thackery’s Vanity Fair and any Bronte sisters novel will tackle the problem of money–what it does to you if you have it, what it does to you if you don’t. And George Gissing’s New Grub Street is entirely about the terrible compromises a writer must make for the love of money. I admire Dear Money on a lot of levels–it’s beautifully written AND has a page turner pace–but what I love most is how Martha manages to portray both an empathetic and scathing chronicle of our times. She’s our Trollope. Jenny McPhee

    1. Gotham Gal

      Money is a strange thing. Martha’s book clearly portrays the maincharacters yearning for money as every around her seems to have a muchgreener backyard because of the cash. Spot on for this generation.