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June 10, 2005

Apparently, Luther Albright's Tested Quite Well

by Ron Hogan

I'll freely admit that I haven't seen a single word of the forthcoming novel from MacKenzie Bezos, The Testing of Luther Albright; all I know about it is what I've seen in the Fourth Estate catalog, PW, and the review. Bezos isn't a complete stranger to me; I've met her exactly twice: at the Amazon post-holiday staff party in January 1999 and then again at the same party a year later. It was common knowledge among the editorial staff that Jeff's wife was working on a novel, and that she'd trained at Princeton so it was probably going to be pretty good, or at the very least pretty polished. But after I left Amazon, I forgot all about it until Michael Cader mentioned it in Publishers Lunch a few days ago.

So when I saw that Amazon used 482 words to review her debut novel--the longest review I can recall seeing on the site since--well, since I worked there, frankly--I got curious as to how long the Amazon reviews for current NYT bestsellers might be. #1, Michael Connelly's The Closers, gets 445 words, but runner-up 4th of July, farmed out by James Patterson to Maxine Paetro, doesn't even have an official Amazon review. Neither do the latest stories from Nicholas Sparks and John Sanford, and then Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair is summed up in only 274 words. The DaVinci Code is dispatched in 241 words, after which the Revenge of the Sith novelization and new novels from Chuck Palahniuk and Iris Johansen get no in-house coverage. Finally, in the #10 slot, Harlan Coben's The Innocent is reviewed with 289 words.

So then I thought I'd look at some recently published titles which might reasonably considered to have literary cachet. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The History of Love? No Amazon review. Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go? 217 words--written, in the interest of full disclosure, by my pal Regina, who also treated Umberto Eco's latest in 293 words. Meanwhile, Ian McEwan got zilch from Amazon to describe his Saturday, which is exactly how much in-house attention was devoted to the book currently featured in the "what we're reading" section of the literature home page, Catherine Tudish's Tunney's Landing. (So apparently, "we're" no longer bothering to consistently report on what "we're" reading; a mere heads-up is sufficient.) And then after counting the 318 words used to review The Kite Runner, I got bored with this game and stopped. I didn't even bother to try coming up with a conclusion as to why Amazon's editors might have considered this particular novel worthy of the most substantial attention it's given a work of fiction in ages. Maybe I'll find out when I read it--which I'll have to do eventually if I want to find out if the comparison to Jonathan Franzen is apt or not.

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