Trapsby MacKenzie Bezos
Reclusive movie star Jessica Lessing is finally coming out of hiding—to confront her father, a con man who has been selling her out to the paparazzi for years. On her four-day road trip to Las Vegas, she encounters three unexpected allies—Vivian, a teenager with newborn twins; Lynn, a dog shelter owner living in isolation on a ranch in rural Nevada
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Reclusive movie star Jessica Lessing is finally coming out of hiding—to confront her father, a con man who has been selling her out to the paparazzi for years. On her four-day road trip to Las Vegas, she encounters three unexpected allies—Vivian, a teenager with newborn twins; Lynn, a dog shelter owner living in isolation on a ranch in rural Nevada; and Dana, a fearless ex-military bodyguard wrestling with secrets of her own. As their fates collide, each woman will find a chance at redemption that she never would have thought possible. MacKenzie Bezos’s taut prose, tough characters, and nuanced insights give this novel a complexity that few thrillers can match.
This ebook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
“Bezos writes spare, present-tense prose that lends her writing an urgency as four women slip in and out of psychic and emotional peril.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Sweet are the uses of adversity, writes Shakespeare, and MacKenzie Bezos explores that proposition. . . . Her characters are beautifully delineated and arrestingly original.” —Geraldine Brooks
“Traps is a page turner. . . . A remarkable kind of alchemy. . . . I didn't want it to end.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
“Cleverly orchestrated. . . . Each woman is impressively rendered.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Bezos galvanizes the mundane with a sense of dread, presenting four women trapped by sad circumstances and their own fallibility. . . . Bezos creates a sad, melancholic, nearly melodramatic world, almost too hard to stomach until we begin to see what she sees: “Life is full of things that feel like traps. . . . Sometimes later we see that they led us where we needed to go.’” —Publishers Weekly
“The story of four women in distress. . . . Bezos deftly weaves these disparate stories together and creates a moving tale of redemption.” —Booklist
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Read an Excerpt
In the vast valley north of Los Angeles, on a street of abandoned warehouses, behind a wall of corrugated metal topped with barbed wire, beyond an unused machine shop, in an unmarked prefab office building, inside a tiny bathroom with a hollow-core door, our first hero begins to tremble as she steps into a strange pair of pants.
These pants are enormous—inches thick, visibly stiff, made of a fabric coarse and gray—and when she grips the sink for balance, letting them fall, they relax only slightly, a pair of heavy phantom legs leaning against her own. A matching jacket lies felled on the floor like some hunted thing, arms pinned beneath its own weight. On the seat of the closed toilet, an open equipment bag bears a padded red helmet, its dark metal face cage regarding the water-stained ceiling. And on the floor beside it, a clipboard:
McClelland Security Services
Contingency Stress Inoculation Training
Dana Bowman, Years 1–6
with colored graph lines for Heart Rate and Test Duration descending.
This woman keeps her head bowed, focusing resolutely on the shining silver drain stop at the bottom of the sink. She is able to still herself this way, but over the course of a long minute, the short hair at the back of her neck begins to darken, the skin to shine, and at last a bead forms and slides down to disappear into the rolled cotton edge of her tank. She cranks the sink water on. She flips a wall switch, setting an old ceiling fan rattling. Finally she straightens and pulls the pants up tall, fitting her arms through the ragged straps of the suspenders in front of the mirror. Tall and lean. Short, dark hair. Eyes a clear green. Thin white line of a scar above her upper lip.
This is Dana.
She stops the stream of water with a still-shaking hand and cups some, sips at it, the bulk of it dribbling from her chin into the sink. She reaches behind her into the equipment bag to grab a long black strip of nylon webbing with a plastic clip. She passes it under the running tap and hikes her tank up to fit it on around her rib cage under her bra, weaving it through the suspender straps and snapping it in front over her sternum. Beyond the red helmet, in the deep of the bag, is a little black wristband with a digital display. She takes a deep breath through her nose—nothing you can hear, but you can see her chest rise and keep silently rising, followed by a long, slow fall. Then she fishes out the wristband: forty-four beats per minute.
She shuts the water off now and takes two neoprene sleeves from the bag and pulls them on over her forearms. She hefts the coat from the floor like you would a heavy backpack, slinging it on, tiny inside it, and makes short work of the clips in front. Then she picks up the clipboard, tucks the helmet under one arm, and opens the bathroom door.
On to a large break room. At the counter is a big young man in a T‑shirt and camouflage cargo pants, his brown head shaved shiny bald. He is leaning against a humming microwave, tapping a spoon in his open palm. “Shit,” he says. “The corsage I got isn’t going to match.”
Dana lumbers past him, setting her things on the table, and twists the dial on a padlock. Inside her locker is an oversized backpack—black ballistic nylon girded with a dozen zippered pockets. He watches as she yanks one open and withdraws a box of Pepto-Bismol tablets and fiddles with a crinkling cellophane sheet.
“Cujo-itis?” he says.
She pops a pair of pink tablets into her mouth and shuts her locker door. She twists the dial on the padlock again, and grabs the helmet and clipboard. The color is back in her face now, not so quickly from the pills, of course, but from some internal effort of her own. She manages to smile at him, even. “Smell of your mom’s leftovers,” she says, and she pushes the bar release on a fire door and steps, squinting, out into the bright courtyard.
Or not a courtyard, really. A half acre of sparkling mica-flecked blacktop hemmed in by those barb-topped walls and bulwarked by the unused warehouses beyond. To one side a line of six black SUVs with dark windows, windshields flashing white in the sun. At the far end a few long runs of chain-link fence leading to a low concrete outbuilding. And at the center a man in a tie and shirtsleeves next to a plain white service van. When the door crashes shut, the little building in the far corner of the yard explodes with muffled barking.
Dana lifts the helmet and swings open the face guard as she crosses the blacktop. She parts the flaps of thick foam at the neck and lowers it over her head, shutting the cage over her pale green eyes and the little white scar. It muffles her hearing, but right away (she will never understand this about herself, but she will continue to crave it) her heart rate slows and her focus sharpens. A paper clip on the blacktop. A helicopter banking south so far off in the turquoise sky she cannot hear it. And just before she reaches him, a flash of something at her examiner’s neck as he reaches out for the clipboard. Someone (a barber? his wife?) has nicked him with the clippers just above his collar, a nearly invisible line of fine red marks just below the short hairs, like perforations. Corey Sifter is his name. A former Marine Aircraft Wing Commander and Combat Tactics Instructor from Alabama. Who likes the chair nearest the door in the break room and eats sunflower seeds in his office.
Dana hands him the clipboard and the wristband to her heart-rate monitor, and in turn he hands her a different -wristband—no display, just a white plastic box with a single red button. She slips it on and pushes it up a bit, hiding it inside the sleeve of the big coat.
He says, “Now, you know that’s not just a token of our affection. You can press that thing if you need us.”
“You were in there so long last year, we thought maybe you forgot. Decided you had no choice but to make a roommate out of him and live out your days in the back of that van.”
“I like living alone, sir,” she says.
He laughs. “Fair enough.” He riffles the pages on the clipboard and then raps it with his knuckle. “I’m just hoping you don’t fall asleep this time. Your peak heart rate has dropped by at least seven points every year.”
Dana blinks inside her helmet, waiting. She knows such exchanges can go on a long time if she participates in them, and she is itching to get inside the van. She is still hot inside her suit; she is still nauseous. He still has the trace of a smile on his face people wear when they expect that their banter will be returned, but finally it falls away. He coughs and raps his knuckles again on his clipboard.
“All right then,” he says.
And Dana opens the barn doors at the rear of the van and climbs in, pulling them shut behind her.
The space is dark after the bright outside, but it is also familiar. The pair of bucket seats scabbed with duct tape and the empty rear compartment stripped down to the white sheet-metal skin. An anarchy of scratch marks on the floor as her eyes adjust. The space does for her what the helmet did, and she kneels in the center of the van and feels carefully along the underside of the seats. She leans forward to click the glove box gently open and shut. She does not watch through the windshield as a door in the far building swings open. There is just the soft sifting of her hands along the floor beneath the dashboard, searching, and the rattle of her sneakers as she turns and steps back behind the bucket seats, while outside, silent beyond the van windows, a big German shepherd barrels out, dragging a handler by a leash. It scrabbles toward the van, and Dana crouches on one knee, extending her left arm just as the barn doors swing open, flooding the van with light, and the dog flies at her, teeth bared.
What People are saying about this
“Sweet are the uses of adversity, writes Shakespeare, and MacKenzie Bezos explores that proposition through four damaged lives as they intersect over four suspenseful days. Her characters are beautifully delineated and arrestingly original. There is a sparkling, chiseled quality to her writing that puts me in mind of a master sculptor who commands the most disciplined craftsmanship in pursuit of passionate artistic ends.”
“The four incredible women at the heart of Traps will linger in my psyche for a long time. Bezos’s gift is to take what seem to be disparate lives, separate worlds, and weave them into a single tapestry—a remarkable kind of alchemy. The real life lesson here is one of interconnectedness, of strength and courage emerging not despite, but because of adversity. Traps is a page turner, a satisfying read. I didn’t want it to end.”
—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
Meet the Author
MacKenzie Bezos was born in northern California and studied creative writing at Princeton University. She is the recipient of an American Book Award for her first novel, The Testing of Luther Albright. She lives in Seattle with her husband and four children.
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do we make our traps or are we put into them? various characters have various ways of looking at this complex issue. these four women touched my heart in a way that hasn't happened in a time. each person was distinct and whorthwhile knowing. a lovely book
what could these four women possibly have in common?...different ages and stages in life..on separate paths...but then the paths converge...page after page of scene setting until the interlapping begins..the cross connecting...the divergence transcends the unknowing until all questions are answered and the unknowing becomes known...by the women....by the reader....by the time the book quickly ends
I read this book in two days - once I picked it up, I just kept on reading. I loved how Ms Bezos' descriptions of the characters left me feeling like I really understood them, each with their own strengths and weaknesses to deal with. Each character had equal importance throughout. Starting with an introductory back-story for each, the connections between the four women brought out their own independent strength, rounding out the story as a whole, but also for each individual woman.