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MacKenzie Bezos
Knopf / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-307-95973-7
Publication Date: 03-12-2013
210 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed: 04-01-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  General Fiction  Mystery

We have an instinct to know. It is a core aspect of what it means to be human; show us anything we do not know and our first reaction will be to try to find out just what it is and why you are showing it to us. In theory then, this might mean that the beginning of any novel would get us inside and make us read it to the end, but that's clearly not the case.

In 'Traps,' MacKenzie Bezos introduces us to four very different and disparate women; Dana, a young woman working as a security guard, Jessica, a well-to-do housewife, Vivian, a very young mother, and Lynn, an older woman who lives on a ranch. Taken out of context, there's a random feel to these choices. These women have no connection.

But they are clearly the main characters in this novel. The prose speaks to the reader, and tells us about them. It is compellingly clear that we are meeting them for a reason. They are prickly, fascinating and very real. Will they — how will they — come together? Read slowly and savor the journey — you have just a little more than 200 pages to find out.

'Traps' is an intense and fascinating take on the novel of suspense. From the first paragraph, the prose hews close the characters while simultaneously keeping a certain circumspect distance. Bezos takes us down to a granular level of details with such skill that you might find yourself observing you own life in her prose voice. Dialogue is clipped and natural, never showy. What's left unsaid is just as present as the topic of any given conversation. Even introspection is trimmed to a character level. Jessica is rather self-absorbed, Dana much less so — at least at first. Bezos creates stunningly memorable scenes and characters with a minimum of fuss. Every once in a while, she'll pull back and remind us that there is a storyteller who will never be in the story. It's an unsettling effect that ratchets up the tension.

The four main characters we will get to know as the novel progresses have the frailty and flaws of people who might be in your life. A large part of the suspense here comes from getting to know each of these women. Bezos makes this worth our time, giving us women who have a raw edge; if there's a similarity between any of the main characters, it's that they all have some quite reasonable and realistic source of unhappiness in their lives. Some of these reasons are rather threatening, but Bezos also goes to some lengths to make sure that while we empathize with their problems, we never pity them. This novel has hard edges.

The general perspectives move from one woman to the next, but the cast is fairly large and memorable for such a short novel. Every character has men and other women in their lives, and surprisingly, Bezos is able to write them with the proper density so that we can keep them all straight and know who fits where into her increasingly intricate plot machine and in what manner. No matter who we are with, the book is enjoyable to read, and the tension steps up with every page turned.

'Traps' derives a lot of its reading fun from the variety of echoes, reverberations and coincidences that show up just often enough to add effectively to the suspense. Bezos treads a very fine line and always manages to stay on the right side of showing us synchronicity in the details of the lives she describes. There's just a hint of the uncanny in 'Traps,' and it works to the novel's advantage.

Ultimately, 'Traps' captures a rough, authentic, American vibe, keeping readers riveted with the most essential and intense mystery that a great writer can summon — who are these people? Bezos makes us want to know from the beginning, makes every step of the journey, realistic, intense and compelling, and ultimately delivers a very satisfying whole.

'Traps' offers a lot of food for thought with its characters and their lives, but those aspects are subsumed into story, into a story that makes us care, that makes us want to know, makes us read. After finishing the book, when we do know, we want to read again, because the knowledge we now have has changed our perceptions. Even if, having read the book, we know every aspect of it, we still want to know how it feels to learn — now that we know.

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