Jonathan Dee wants you to know that vast wealth turns people into jerks.
In case you have doubts, his latest novel, "The Privileges" (Random House, 258 pages, $25), seeks to make a believer out of you as he chronicles the lives of a fictional couple reaching the pinnacle of New York society -- one shady business deal, one splurge-filled shopping trip, one druggy teenage party at a time.
If you're thinking all of this sounds distressingly similar to a "Gossip Girl" novel, you'd be right.
Except that "Gossip Girl" author Cecily Von Ziegasar has a stunning talent for snappy dialogue, glitzy scenes and, one last thing: fun. There is nothing nearly as entertaining about Dee's fifth effort.
In a bid to impose a bit of organizational architecture onto his nap-fest of a social critique, Dee has arranged the novel into four different sections, each offering a different time frame through which to view the couple and, later, their decidedly mediocre children.
When readers first meet Cynthia and Adam, they are racing to the altar right after college graduation to prove they can be first -- and best -- at everything.
In section two, Dee exhibits flashes of brilliance describing the ups and downs of life as a stay-at-home mother. While Cynthia fights occasional boredom, husband Adam is a fast-rising star in his financial sector job.
Then, the portion that feels most lived-in occurs when Dee treats us to a vista of the family with rowdy teenagers, with Cynthia and Adam settled into a gorgeous home and posh social circumstances. Still, after 100 pages, readers will be dismayed to realize they care not one bit for these people.
It is unfortunate that Dee mistakes a slow accretion of domestic detail for a plot, and while he proves an able scene setter, there is little about this modern morality play to propel the story forward. Readers will groan through over-long recitations of a character's interior thoughts as well as the grim safety of illegal business deals that add bark but no bite.
If one must choose one obtuse character over another, Cynthia certainly wins points for her frank lack of manners. One early scene finds her writing "Eat me" atop her résumé and sliding it across a desk to a potential employer; others find her shockingly snubbing the wife of Adam's wealthy superior. In later chapters, she will use her money to boss people around in a way that Dee hopes readers will find distasteful.
The moral of the story? "The Privileges" means to explore the changes taking place when an ordinary couple make a steep ascent into the rarefied world of aristocratic New York. In truth, if you want glitz and glamour, avarice and vanity, you are better off sticking with "Gossip Girl."
Andrea Hoag is a book critic whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly.