Recommendation: I’m not gonna hide my bias. As you can see here, here, or here, I’m not a huge fan of Amazon. Mackenzie Bezos happens to be the wife of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. So, I was predisposed to disliking this novel. Still, I tried to give it an honest read, and found both the language and the plot to be pretty lackluster. I won’t be passing this book on to any of my friends.
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Traps is a novel told through the perspective of four women. There’s Dana, a security guard who learns she’s pregnant and has to decide what to do about her coming child and her relationship. Jessica is a movie star who has hidden from the spotlight while starting a family and is once again in the face of public scrutiny now that her Dad is in a coma. Lynn is a middle-aged recovering alcoholic working at a dog rescue facility and Vivian is a mother of twins trying to escape her life of prostitution. Of course, all these storylines connect eventually and honestly, if you just look at the basic outlines of these characters (a security guard, a movie star, an older woman with an embattled past, and a young woman on the run looking to support her kids) you can pretty much figure it out.
In fact, that was one of the most annoying parts of Traps. From the first page, you are a step ahead of Bezos. Nothing that happens is surprising. And if something is surprising, it’s only because your amazed that Bezos would write something so obviously contrived. This is gonna be a minor spoiler, but I was so frustrated that I need to talk about it. Pretty early on we learn that Dana is pregnant. The way we find out is that Dana is inexplicably feeling ill and throwing up (immediately, everyone knows what the deal is, but we have to go along with things for another 30 pages). She talks to her boyfriend, who suggest that she’s pregnant, but no, she can’t be, they always use condoms and she’s on birth control. But, when she’s at the store, she grabs the last case of Boost and (voila!) she finds an old pregnancy test stuck behind the shelf! And they don’t even sell pregnancy tests in that area! What a stroke of luck! Even writing that summary annoys the crap out of me. I was already pushed to the limit with the idea that she is pregnant (seriously, both condoms and the pill have like 99% success rates or better. You’re looking at like a 0.001% chance of her being pregnant). But, Bezos has to just pile on the coincidences. No, Dana can’t go looking for a test, it has to just randomly fall in her lap. Even though she doesn’t believe in fate or coincidence, she suddenly decides to buy it and test herself. Then, we finally get to the conflict that we expected from the second page. It was the most clumsy, heavy-handed sequence that I’ve read in quite some time and I immediately lost interest in the book from there.
But, I pushed forward regardless, you know, trying to be diplomatic. And I will say that things got better from there. The insane coincidences tone down a bit (though they still feel contrived to me), and Bezos does put together some poignant moments. There was even a part of Vivian’s story that had me on the verge of tears, and Bezos does well to get out of the way and let the vicious material do its work. However, to my eye, the writing is poor and never improves. I don’t think anyone could make the argument that Bezos is an extraordinary writer, but some of you would like her more than I did. Bezos has a bad habit that happens to align with an extreme pet peeve of mine: using the same word (or root word) multiple times in the same sentence. I just hate it. Makes me feel idiotic when I write it and pushes me towards psychosis when I read it. Don’t freaking say that you parked the car in the parking lot! You stopped the car in the parking lot. Or slid into the parking space. Or heard the brakes squeal as the chassis rocked back to a jerking stop. But, you. did. not. PARK. the. car. in. the. PARKING. lot!!!! Cause if you did, then I would have to hire Bo Jackson to sufficiently express the extent of my frustration.
Seriously. Bezos, I don’t even think you’re that good, but I know you’re better than that. Another problem that crops up in this novel is that someone apparently told Bezos that she is, in fact, a fantastic writer. This is literary fiction. There are paragraphs describing scenery, long explanation of thoughts and minute recording of mundane details. It’s something that only the best writers can pull off with any success, and Bezos is not the best writer. Let me reel myself in here. Bezos isn’t the worst writer I’ve seen, isn’t the worst writer I’ve seen published, and isn’t a bad person just because she wrote a bad novel. I’m sure she’s perfectly pleasant and I’ve actually heard a lot of good things about her first novel, The Testing of Luther Albright. But, that doesn’t change what this is. It’s a bad novel. And there are plenty of worse things than a bad novel. So, that’s something, I guess.
***Side note—I think I’m bouts to change the name of my blog in the next few days so don’t be freaked out. I’mma post more about this in the next couple days as a warning, but just so all y’all know.