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The Idealized, Introverted Wives of Mackenzie Bezos’s Fiction

24 January 2019

From The New Yorker:

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.

. . . .

Luther combines a sense of his own infallibility with a zeal for process and quantification. (Incidentally, Jeff Bezos once described himself as a “professional dater” who assessed romantic prospects via analytic systems derived from investment banking.) Liz’s investment in her partner’s career, meanwhile, can be readily quantified: when Luther takes a new job, she finds “a different way to celebrate—champagne, a cake, an office nameplate hidden in the butter dish” every night for a week. As Luther withdraws from their relationship, Liz begins volunteering for a crisis hotline. (“I tried to picture her there,” Luther says, “listening to a stranger’s worries across the telephone lines because I would not share my own.”)

. . . .

By 2013, the year “Traps” was published, Bezos existed in the public eye as a wholesome cipher, one who commanded unimaginable billions of dollars and co-hosted the Met Gala but still drove the kids to school in a Honda minivan. The plight of the public-facing introvert is one that “Traps” pays careful attention to: Jessica has won an Oscar but is terrified to venture outside, where paparazzi lie in wait and the press dissects her most intimate choices. “She had made her world so small trying to escape the judgments of strangers,” Bezos writes, “drawing in and in, shopping online and hosting events.”

. . . .

Amazon, or Jeff Bezos himself, has played the chief villain in a fable about the imperilled book industry for a long time. One does not expect the hunter—or rather, the hunter’s hugely supportive wife—to appreciate, let alone practice, the virtues of the hunted.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

PG suspects that each of Ms. Bezos’ books includes a disclaimer that reads something like, “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any of the characters or scenes in this book to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.”

The author of the OP is firmly esconsed in the “imperilled book industry,” so we cannot expect perfect even-handedness. However, PG wonders whether reviewing a book written by a woman who is married to a rich and successful man by assuming the author is unable to write something that does not concern her husband is a bit sexist.

Are we to assume that Ms. Bezos doesn’t think about anything other than Amazon and her relationship with its founder?


3 Comments to “The Idealized, Introverted Wives of Mackenzie Bezos’s Fiction”

  1. What the hell is she even trying to say with this essay?

  2. The essayist is claiming that Jeff Bezos is evil and Mackenzie is oppressed.

    Actually, it sounds like Mackenzie likes to write Mary Sue Perfect, even down to the brave beautiful death.

    • Getting divorced is apparently (among other things) the best thing to happen to her book sales in a long time, not that she probably cares about the money at this point.

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