The lives of four troubled women converge outside Las Vegas in this follow-up from Bezos (The Testing of Luther Albright, 2005).
This cleverly orchestrated, cool-toned novel opens with Dana, a top-shelf bodyguard, fending off a dog attack without breaking a sweat. The scene serves as a kind of allegory for what Bezos is up to throughout the book: She wants to explore how women respond to threats, and do it free of emotional overreaction. Dana is charged with monitoring Jessica, an Oscar-winning actress who’s compelled to visit her ailing estranged father and care for his dog. The dog brings them into the orbit of Lynn, a recovering alcoholic who runs an animal shelter, and she in turn has taken in Vivian, a 17-year-old prostitute who’s run off with her twin infants to escape her abusive pimp. The setup is pulpy and all the more preposterous for being set in just four days. Yet Bezos’ prose doesn’t dramatize—at times, it’s as removed as a dossier, and a spare image of a black widow spider resting on the car seat where Vivian’s babies sleep is enough to convey her brittle, dangerous milieu. The novel isn’t short on conflict—Dana is struggling to help her boyfriend, who has cancer, and Vivian’s pimp makes an ugly reappearance. But its drama is powered as much by conversation and the women’s interior thoughts. Each woman is impressively rendered for such a slim book, and each is at a different level of flinty no-nonsensehood that Bezos implies is essential to avoid the “traps” of the title—mostly men but also just life itself. Dana, with her low resting heart rate, is the platonic ideal, but Vivian’s complicated but determined escape is equally admirable.
This book’s emotional remove is something of an asset, emphasizing the seriousness of the characters’ predicaments without locking them into the stock, manipulative plots.