It isn't mentioned anywhere in The Testing of Luther Albright that the book's author, MacKenzie Bezos, is married to one of the most influential people in the publishing industry. But it's pretty easy to put it together: Bezos's bio mentions that she lives in Seattle and the book is dedicated in part "to Jeff." Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of Amazon.com.
The identity of an author's husband is irrelevant to her work and a rude thing to ask around about, but you wouldn't have to be a total cynic to wonder if The Testing of Luther Albright is getting special treatment on Amazon.com. Last week, I was looking at Amazon.com's books page and I clicked on Browse Subjects, and then Literature & Fiction. A box came up called What We're Reading, featuring one title: The Testing of Luther Albright by MacKenzie Bezos. (Several other books also rotate through this slot.)
"Who there is reading it?" I asked a media-relations assistant I reached through Amazon.com's media-relations line last Friday. He said he couldn't answer my question but that someone would call me back by the end of the day. No one called back, so I tried again on Monday. Someone else returned that call and, when I asked her my question, said she'd have to call me back. No one ever called back. A separate call to Amazon.com's PR department was not returned.
A former Amazon.com employee speculated that Bezos's favorable placement on Amazon.com might be paid for by the publisher. But Michael McKenzie, associate director of publicity at HarperCollins, said that he didn't know anything about the What We're Reading box, nor whether HarperCollins had paid to have Bezos's book featured there. When asked whether the author's marriage to the founder of the most powerful bookstore in the world complicated any aspect of publishing and promoting the book, McKenzie declined to comment.
Amazon.com's review of the book is glowing. The reviewer, Valerie Ryan, who also writes reviews for the Seattle Times and the Costco Connection, told me that she was under no pressure to write a positive review and that Bezos's name rang a bell but she "drew no conclusions about what the relationship was." (A parenthetical in Ryan's review, noting that Bezos is "wife of Amazon.com founder Jeff," was inserted by an Amazon.com editor.)
Not all of the reviews have been as favorable. Before Bezos's reading at Elliott Bay last week, the Seattle Times called her novel "uncompelling," "heavy-handed," and "neither moving nor stimulating." Jeff Bezos, former Time Man of the Year, went to that reading and, according to someone there, "took pictures of [the author] standing next to her book and it was very cute."
MacKenzie Bezos also reads at non-virtual bookstores Queen Anne Bookshop on August 28 and University Book Store on August 31.