by MacKenzie Bezos; Knopf, 2013; 205 pages; $24.95
Things are tough for the four women in MacKenzie Bezos new novel. Things are so tough, in fact, that Bezos decides to remind us of Shakespeare’s assertion that “sweet are the uses of adversity” as each characters deals with that adversity with various degrees of success.
In the first scene of the novel, security guard Dana Bowman commits to training an attack dog in the back of a dark van. Yet soon after, Dana displays a remarkable lack of commitment by refusing to stay at an impromptu party thrown by her charming boyfriend Ian, who is undergoing cancer treatment. She buys a pregnancy test at a local drugstore and worries that she might be pregnant with a child she doesn’t feel ready for.
Jessica Lessing is a reclusive movie star whose family life is better than what she thinks she deserves. Jessica realizes she’s losing control of that life as her profligate father keeps selling her out to reporters and paparazzi. She continues to be plagued with the inordinate fear that she will ruin her daughters just as her father is trying to ruin her.
Vivian Able is a 17-year-old prostitute and mother to infant twins, Sebastian and Emmaline. Vivian is confused about how to get rid of the anxious man in her life, and even more so, she worries how her life will affect the lives of her twins.
Lynn Doran is a middle-aged recovering alcoholic who lost the use of one of her arms in an accident. She runs a dog rescue on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Her assistants receive room and board, but Lynn can’t seem to keep these young women for longer than a few months at a time.
These four disparate lives intertwine in subtle ways over the course of three days as Jessica goes to Vegas to confront her childhood and her father. Paths cross, surprises abound, and the characters touch each other in unexpected ways.
But this second novel from MacKenzie Bezos never descends into bathos. What it does is capture the ugliness of living as well as the beauty. And it explores in short chapters and simple, moving scenes how small incidents link us in ways we’ll never know.
Late in the novel, Lynn says, “Life is full of things that feel like traps ... But they’re not always what they seem. Sometimes later we see that they led us where we needed to go.”
That’s the unpretentious strength of “Traps” — it leads us where we need to go. And gently persuades us to face the adversity of what we call living.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.