She was an aspiring fiction writer with an audacious start along that path. She pursued creative writing at Princeton, and studied and worked as a research assistant for Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison.
Then she met Jeff Bezos, married him, and played an instrumental role in getting Amazon off the ground.
MacKenzie Bezos is suddenly in the spotlight with the news of her “amicable” split from her husband of 25 years, the Amazon CEO. She stands to become one of the richest — if not the richest — woman on the planet. Even the New York Times is asking, “Who is MacKenzie Bezos?”
She’s a novelist who has published two books, The Testing of Luther Albright and Traps, out in 2005 and 2013 respectively. What better way understand who she is than to read her books? So that’s what I did. Here are my key takeaways from the world of MacKenzie Bezos’ fiction.
She doesn’t write fun, happy tales
This is serious fiction that unfolds in a long, slow burn. MacKenzie’s books are not easy, fun reads. In fact, they feature seemingly common people struggling with some kind of internal strife that comes from mundane everyday living.
How does she illustrate this? She uses a lot of descriptive details. A lot. You will know the color of everyone’s clothes, what they’re eating, what they’re looking at, and the details of their every move.
What the characters don’t do is talk much about what’s on their minds. Instead, the dialogue is mostly the surface-y stuff people say instead of the truth. Meanwhile, their emotions roil and boil on the insides, and often what they’re thinking is communicated through their actions. Her characters’ main communication style is not unlike the infamous Seattle Freeze, with almost no one saying what they really think.
Strong female characters abound
While her first book, Luther Albright, is written from the perspective of an outwardly strong but deeply flawed man, his wife is a strong presence in the book: accomplished, graceful, and giving. In Traps, MacKenzie explores women as the heroes of the story. It focuses on four different characters, who come from hardscrabble backgrounds and have the scars to show for it.
While incredibly damaged, each woman also rises to her challenges to prevail. One woman becomes a movie star, another a concise, measured soldier/bodyguard, and two others leave destructive, abusive lives to improve their lots in life and strike out on their own. No one is a damsel in distress waiting for Mr. Darcy. In fact, these women are all singular entities perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.
Of monsters and men
Throughout these books, the men are portrayed as stoic and “repressed,” aka lead character Luther in her first novel, or the monsters and heroes in Traps.
It’s intriguing that she chose to write her first protagonist from a male perspective. A civil engineer who builds dams, Luther is predictable, precise, and emotionally frozen, unable to share what he’s really thinking with his wife and son. Dedicated to process, it’s his inability to deviate from his exacting path that ultimately costs him the connection he desires with his family. The more he tries to control things, structurally or emotionally, the more they fall apart.
While Traps focuses on its female heroines, the men are supporting characters. They are either monsters who abused and harassed these women, or the complete opposite: So lovingly supportive that they’re almost too good to be true.
There are no easy resolutions
Many fiction books tie it all up with a neat resolution. While Traps does end with a surprisingly pleasant twist and change of heart for its characters, it’s a pain-filled slog for them to reach that point. In her first book, Luther’s end isn’t remotely happy or complete. If you’re looking for a Disney-like, happily ever afters, you won’t find it. Like in life, full closure is often a pipe dream.
So, what’s next?
I’m echoing the New York Times sentiment that this is really MacKenzie’s time to do what she wants, after spending more than a couple decades in Jeff’s shadow, and hopefully what she does is for the better public good. She obviously loves literature and writing, so it would be outstanding to see her start an organization that promotes something related to that, especially for underserved people around the world.
She’ll also likely have more time for her writing post-Jeff. The best writing comes from real life, and this is one story that no one else on the planet can tell. If and when she does decide to write her memoir, there will be an insane bidding war among New York publishers for it, and it will surely be the bestseller everyone is dying to read, even if it isn’t the bestseller she wanted to write.