Haunting and painful,
This review is from: A Marker to Measure Drift (Hardcover)
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Alexander Maksik's working of sensitive recent autobiographical material into his debut novel You Deserve Nothing seems to have created a fair bit of controversy in some places, which is unfortunate, because as his second novel A Marker to Measure Drift confirms, he's a fine writer with a clear voice and, it seems, the ability to delve deeply into dark places of the mind in relation to personal conflict and trauma.
Marker to Measure Drift operates on two levels that the writing style expresses perfectly. On one level, it's a straightforward moment-by-moment account of a young woman, Jacqueline, who has been displaced from her homeland of Liberia and made her way to the Greek islands where she is now living as a vagrant, relying on the kindness of people she meets and getting by earning a few Euros giving foot massages. It doesn't take long to realise however that her hand-to-mouth existence being reduced to basic needs is not so much determined by choice or even circumstance as much as it is a necessity to keep at bay the memory of who she is and what has brought her to this condition.
The depiction of Jacqueline's existence is nonetheless often beautifully summed up in simple phrases by Maksik that capture the fragility of her existence that are indeed related to historical events that took place towards the end of Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia, but the writing also evokes deeper and more universal resonances. There's a wider sense of life being fragile, of one's place in the world being transitory, insubstantial and impermanent, but the story also delves into the question of memory and the need to come to an accommodation with the past. More than anything, for all her desire to be self-dependent, it becomes clear to Jacqueline that without other people, it's difficult to define yourself and feel like you really exist.
The writing then can flit from present-day to the past, memories and dead people co-existing in Jacqueline's mind as her grasp on reality slips and the enormity of what you gradually come to suspect might have happened comes to asserts itself. At some stage you know the true horror of Jacqueline's position and condition is going to come out, and when it does, it's worse than you could possibly imagine. I almost wish I could erase the last chapter of the novel from my mind, as I'd come to really feel for Jacqueline and would have been quite content to live with the uncertainty about her background. Maksik however doesn't spare you or allow any such comfortable ignorance. He's probably right to do so, as confrontation of the issue is undoubtedly important to Jacqueline, but I still wish I'd left the last chapter unread.