April 21, 2019

Reading MacKenzie Bezos' Fiction for Clues

“Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are seeking a divorce, having amassed twenty-five years of marriage, four children, and a net worth of a hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars. Jeff is the founder of Amazon. MacKenzie is a writer who studied fiction under Toni Morrison, at Princeton, and has published two novels, “The Testing of Luther Albright,” in 2005, and “Traps,” in 2013. Both books were released by traditional imprints, not Amazonian ones (Bezos has referred to his wife as “the fish that got away”), and one of them, “Luther Albright,” is good. There is a particular difficulty in discerning whether this book is good, not because the text qua text is somehow elusive or inscrutable but because one struggles to read it without sweeping for psychological clues. A confirmation bias is at work, and the belief to be confirmed is that a book by MacKenzie Bezos—one half of the richest couple in the world, partner to a man who has exploded paradigms of retail, labor, even capitalism itself, and upended the very industry that publishes her books—just has to be a roman à clef. Surely she would draw on such rich material, so close to hand?

“The Testing of Luther Albright” follows a repressed engineer who specializes in “water resources” and who, in a sense, loses his family by failing to acknowledge his feelings. The idealized wife, Liz, is insanely supportive. Like a cathedral, her features possess a “composite power” that men can’t help trying to “decode.” She’s loving, endlessly adjuvant, the Giving Tree of spouses. At the end of the book, she dies of cancer. Luther strives for impassive rationality. He buries himself in home-improvement projects as his son presses him, less and less gently, for a measure of emotional honesty. The book is swollen with metaphors about dams and hidden pipes. For all its heavy-handedness, though, Bezos draws her characters with uncommon psychological insight, even when they don’t have the language or the self-awareness to show any vulnerability.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"After five years of war with the Islamic State, the biggest problem for the winners is coping with the losers. The aftermath has produced one of the world’s most perplexing postwar challenges..."

"What do we mean when we say that the “soul of the city” is under threat? Often, it’s really about politics, nostalgia, and the fear of community change."

"...the pendulum of history never stops moving. Indeed, one of the few constants of history is unceasing change. While we seem to be heading in one direction, we must remember that there will surely be pauses, turns, and reversals."

""Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé," premiered early Wednesday and it was the fulfillment of all the ancestors' hopes and dreams. Beyoncé also dropped "Homecoming: The Live Album.""

"Seven in 10 adults ages 18 to 34 received financial support from their parents in the last year, including more than half of those in their early 30s. Almost three in five millennials said they couldn’t afford their lifestyles without the support."

"Social media influencers have helped turn public lands into tourist-infested swamps. And one cantankerous man is fighting back."

"One particular myth that attached itself to Ledger was that his death was somehow a result of immersing himself in the character of the Joker."

"In 2018, for the second year in a row, American publishers released fewer translated titles: 609 books were published, down from 650 in 2017 and the industry high in 2016 of 666."

"Egg freezing had become so routine among my single peers that when I hit 35, I never thought twice. Here’s what I wish I had known."

"When it comes to Passover cuisine, most home cooks know to avoid wheat, oats, rye, and other forbidden ingredients. But what consumers might not realize is just how much cotton they eat during the holiday."

"A masked figure looms over your recumbent body, wielding power tools and sharp metal instruments, doing things to your mouth you cannot see."

"Passover is a holiday that commemorates the Jewish people escaping slavery in Egypt. It is often referred to as the “festival of freedom.” My Passover in prison was at a place called the Wallkill Correctional Facility..."