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One result of reading fiction is that it often lets you into the skin of people you wouldn’t otherwise meet or know – by walking around inside their skulls, metaphorically speaking, you develop an empathy, an understanding, of their needs, their fears and hopes, their very humanness.
Sometimes I hate that.
Especially when I am determined to hate a character(s).
Take the rich, entitled Morey family in Jonathan Dee’s latest novel, The Privileges . I really wanted to dislike them, sneering at their greed and self-indulgence. But Jonathan Dee made me care about them as a loving family, as complicated and compassionate people.
I particularly wanted to despise Cynthia Morey, the wife and mother who is considered “the cool mom” for giving her children every luxury they could possibly want, the fashionable woman who splits her days pampering herself and attending charitable lunches. She could be any of the overly rich, overly whiny “Real Housewives” portrayed on reality TV – but in Jonathan Dee’s hands, I sympathize with her… even (gasp!) like her.
When Cynthia’s father – a charming ne’er-do-well who abandoned his family when she was just 10 and whom she last saw at her wedding, 25 years before – falls ill with cancer, Cynthia mobilizes all of her financial resources to care for him, making an exorbitant donation to get a room in the best hospice in town.
In his dying moments, her father hallucinates, thinking it is right before Cynthia’s wedding, joking with her that the proceedings can’t start without them. Cynthia plays along, holding his hand, wanting the moment never to end.
It is a lovely and heartbreaking scene, and the author makes us look at Cynthia, understand her, as a daughter in pain – not a spoiled, rich woman with a private jet and mansions to spare.
I really hate that.
Because honestly, when you understand someone, it’s so much harder to hate them.