August 18, 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.”

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