Thursday, February 23, 2012

You Deserve Nothing

Does that sound a little harsh? Don't worry, I'm not talking to you. If you're one of the lovely readers of this blog, then you deserve everything. Or at least a cupcake and a shout out from me. 

The title actually refers to You Deserve Nothing, the debut novel by Alexander Maksik. Published by Europa Editions, its part of their Tonga imprint, which features books curated by a rotating cast of well known authors (this time around it was Alice Sebold). I have to confess that I've been putting off writing about this book, hemming and hawing about exactly what I want to say. I thought it was incredibly well written, managing to be suspenseful, engaging, and intellectual all at the same time. On the flip side, it deals with some touchy subject matter in a way that I know won't be everyone's cup of tea. 

The story, set at an international high school in Paris, is told through three pairs of eyes: Will Silver, a charismatic, thirty-something English teacher; Gilad, a worldly student who idolizes Will and, through him, finds strength to deal with his family's problems at home; and Marie, the teenage girl with whom Will begins an illicit affair. This rotating cast of narrators allows the reader to see multiple versions of the same events and makes an interesting statement about the differences between private truths and public perception. It also creates deeply complex characters and, in Will's case, humanizes someone who would be easily written off as despicable in a lesser novel.

The complicating factor, for me, stems from what I discovered after I finished the book. Apparently there was some controversy surrounding the book's release, with some reports alleging that, in a reverse-James Frey move, the action of the book is actually just a thinly veiled account of the author's own life. It's one thing to accept morally ambiguous (at best) actions in a complex and flawed fictional character, but it somehow feels different when those actions are suddenly shifted onto the author himself. On the other hand, I'm not sure how solid the facts are that back up the claims in the articles I've read, and would hate to write off a book on something that ended up being rumor.

I suppose that my bottom line is that this is a well done novel that gets high marks for the quality of writing alone. I'm not entirely sure what I think about all the rest. And if all of this sounds the least bit intriguing, then give it a read and see what you think.

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