August 2005

Cracks in the family facade

By MacKenzie Bezos
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In her first novel, MacKenzie Bezos writes in the voice of Luther Albright, a middle-aged man struggling to cope with fissures in his home, both literal and figurative. Luther is a civil engineer living in Sacramento with his wife, Liz, and teenage son, Elliot. The book opens on a symbolic note, as an earthquake hits the area, shaking the Albright home. Following this event, Luther begins to sense the precariousness of his own small family's structure as his typically well-behaved son Elliot grows increasingly defiant and his warm and beautiful wife Liz becomes ever more distant. At the same time, the house that he built years ago begins showing frequent signs of structural instability, mirroring the happenings within its walls. In Luther, Bezos paints the portrait of an American everyman watching his life crumble around him, too afraid to speak up and save what he knows he is losing. As Luther helplessly watches his family implode, he also wrestles with some deep-rooted ghosts. Woven into Luther's story (the bulk of the book takes place during the early 1980s) is the history of his disastrous relationship with his own father; here Bezos shows that dysfunctional family patterns are often destined to repeat themselves, despite the best of intentions.

Bezos (who is the wife of founder Jeff Bezos) takes a literary risk by giving voice to a male protagonist in her first novel. For the most part, she is successful. If anything is lacking in this tale, it is Bezos' portrayal of the book's secondary characters. Luther's first-person voice is the only one that resonates strongly on the pages; Liz and Elliot generally take a backseat to the roar of Luther's internal dialogue. But this is likely the effect that Bezos intended. As Luther's family is becoming lost to him, it is fitting that they might feel distant to the reader as well.

Bezos refreshingly resists tying the story up neatly at the end. The book's conclusion is quietly heartbreaking and perhaps a bit anticlimactic, just as real life often is.

Rebecca K. Stropoli writes from New York City.


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The Testing of Luther Albright

The Testing of Luther Albright

By MacKenzie Bezos
4th Estate
ISBN 9780060751418

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