Luther Albright is a civil engineer who not only designs dams but also designed and built his own home, alert to every one of its systems, constantly fine-tuning the wiring and plumbing. His family life as well seems pleasantly under control, with a loving wife and an agreeable teenaged son. He seems to have a perfect life, until a minor earthquake exposes faults in its foundations.
Written in first person from Luther’s point of view, the events of the novel unfold through his language and interpretation. I can see why some people in my book club found this first novel bland and mundane, but I really liked it. Bezos perfectly captured the way some engineers—often the most competent—lack people skills that the rest of us take for granted. Luther was an extreme example, but I certainly know people like him.
I liked Luther. I felt for him. He thought he was doing the right things, both in his professional life and his home life, not realising that he didn’t understand his family's, his co-workers', or indeed his own emotional needs.
The story is organized around a series of “tests” to which Luther is subjected, and part of the mystery is understanding what the tests are, why they are being administered, and who the force is behind them. As Luther struggles, long-buried memories of his childhood begin to surface. I found myself thinking about the various ways we find to express love, resentment and other emotions.
Bezos did a fabulous job of taking us through these shifting relationships with friends and family. I also liked the way office life was presented. Bezos really captured those co-worker relationships: close without being close, familiar without necessarily liking each other. She described so well the way alliances shift between being competitive and supportive.
I don't think the book would have worked if written in any other point of view. For me, what made it interesting was seeing what was going on inside Luther's head. My only minor complaint was that the wife and son were a bit too good to be believable. But I highly recommend the book. There is a lot going on beneath the surface of this deceptively simple story.