Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Testing of Luther Albright by MacKenzie Bezos

Full disclosure: I knew MacKenzie (then Tuttle), who was and presumably still is a tremendously kind person, in college, before she married Jeff Bezos and they started Amazon.com. So I was predisposed to like this novel, but in the end, it felt technically-perfect but cold. In tone, it reminded me a great deal of one of my favorite novellas, Good Will by Jane Smiley.

As a matter of fact, Luther Albright could well be a brother to Smiley's narrator. Both are exceptionally handy physically, independent, and controlling. They both married women named Liz. They are both emotionally repressed sons of emotionally repressed fathers and emotionally repressed fathers to emotionally repressed sons. Both have relationships to their sons that grow increasingly complicated and tense as the plot progresses. But the big difference is that in Good Will the physical stakes are incredibly high—the son becomes unpredictable in dangerous ways. Bezos’s novel, on the other hand, is more like ordinary life, where the relationship deteriorates for no good reason and to devastating emotional consequences but few that are embodied in the physical. By the end of each tale, the families are substantially changed but in Smiley’s novella the change is to their entire way of life—and some of it is actually positive—while in Bezos’s novel the changes don’t seem to grow out of the events of the novel, but rather through the ordinary progression of time. I marveled at her sentences and her ability to describe technical elements of home and dam construction—but ultimately, I’ll just look forward to her next book, where she might well find a plot that matches her technical skill. I think this happens with a number of writers—Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) and Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) come to mind—where their particular abilities are in place long before they find the plot that best marries those abilities to the right story.

1 comment:

Tai said...

I met a guy a few years ago, through my Uncle, who worked for Amazon. He talked about how nice of a place it is to work, so MacKenzie's spirit must permeate the company.
Ya know, when I requested a new post, I was only really thinking one or two: you really were backlogged