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Posted February 6, 2012
Fact vs Fiction?
I share several commonalities with Alexander Maksik. I am a high school English teacher, a writer, and my parents are educators. I have a passion for literature, philosophy, teaching, writing, and Paris.
I read You Deserve Nothing and was engaged. But I am horrified to learn that Mr. Maksik purportedly betrayed his former pupils, and lover, by writing a tell-all of a real teacher-student relationship under the guise of fiction. What’s worse is that Mr. Maksik devotes sections of the book to that student’s (Marie) narrative in which she speaks glowingly of their time together. In her eyes, Mr. Silver (or Mr. Maksik) is a handsome, intelligent, caring, loving, supportive, and admirable man. Even the character’s physical description matches the author’s appearance. Knowing the supposed truth behind this story now makes it read like revisionist history.
Does Mr. Maksik regret assuming the girl’s voice? Particularly when it came to her describing Mr. Silver’s kindness and beauty? Did he wonder whether writing her thoughts during an abortion would be intrusive or even abusive? Why not write the story as a memoir? Is it due to the recent debate on what constitutes a memoir, as James Frey and Augusten Burroughs endured?
Had the author claimed the situation as his own – or at least written from only the standpoint of Mr. Silver – would that not have at least provided his work with honesty?
We write what we know. Stories should feel organic. And his book is a success on that level. But at what cost? Did Mr. Maksik fear that he would be profiting from a teacher-student relationship under the guise of fiction? Surely, he must have anticipated assertions from former students that the book is based almost entirely on his experience as a teacher in Paris – a fact that never appears to be mentioned in interviews promoting the work. It seems as though this text contradicts the love for students and respect for education that Mr. Maksik (and Mr. Silver) wax on about.
Did Mr. Maksik feel confident enough in his need to write You Deserve Nothing that it was worth the purported betrayal? Or is reality reinforcing the existential lessons explored in the novel?
I am interested in Mr. Maksik’s perspective. He has not provided comment on this controversy, but don’t his former students and colleagues, not to mention readers, deserve something? As the struggle between desire and action is an undercurrent of Mr. Silver’s story, this entire experiences seems a bit meta. Maybe that was always the author’s intention.
I posed these observations and questions to Mr. Maksik in an e-mail and have not received a response.
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Posted October 31, 2011
Ultimately a Letdown
While there is much to appreciate and hold your attention and, more importantly, bind you to the characters, what is an interesting storyline set in a magnificent city, becomes a predictable, formulaic, and flat letdown.
What develops as distinctive, ends as trite.
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