‘You Deserve Nothing’ by Alexander Maksik

Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing is a great example of why I love Europa Editions. With Europa Editions you can count on quirky, contemporary reads told from a new perspective, and this is undoubtedly what you’ll find here. In You Deserve Nothing, a provocative and inspiring teacher, Will Silver, influences high school students Gilad and Marie in a profound way. In a compelling, narrator-jumping style, Maksik manages to offer a fresh take on the idea of moral responsibility in a high school setting.

While the plot of this novel has been done before—a young, hip high school teacher engages in an inappropriate relationship with a student—Maksik’s Parisian setting and discourses on existentialism render the trope anew. Will, in his early thirties and recovering from the difficult breakup of his marriage, is teaching in his third year at the International School of France. Gilad, the son of an American diplomat, is privileged and well-travelled, susceptible to the influence of role models at school as an alternative to his abusive father at home. Like Gilad, Marie’s parents are intensely critical of her, leaving her desperate for any type of approval she can manage from authority figures at school. Through the interactions of these three characters, Maksik asks his readers examine the boundaries of morality and determine to what extent we, as humans, should be held responsible for our actions.

There is one word I can ascribe to both the strengths and weaknesses of You Deserve Nothing: indulgence. Maksik, a part-time resident of Paris, treats his readers to a local’s version of the City of Light. His characters are alternately seen stopping into the corner boulangerie on the way to a tryst, spending Saturday morning at an outdoor café sipping café au lait and reading Camus, and taking part in an defiantly anti-American war protest. While this imagery alone is enough to hook any Francophile, Maksik also endows his prose with lengthy classroom passages expounding on the ideas of philosophical heavyweights Sartre, Faulkner and Keats. While I actually enjoyed all of this romanticized imagery, Maksik’s indulgence lost much of its appeal with regard to the surprisingly explicit sex scenes. For me, the detailed account of Will and Marie’s affair cheapened the novel, lending itself to a younger, “YA” audience.

Overall, Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing is a treat of a novel. I look forward to reading more from this talented writer now that his first novel is successfully under his belt.


3 responses to “‘You Deserve Nothing’ by Alexander Maksik

  1. A letter I sent to Ms. Alice Sebold, to which I am still awaiting reply:
    Oct. 13, 2011
    Dear Ms. Sebold,
    I am writing in regard to the novel, “You Deserve Nothing,” recently publish by Tonga at your selection. I’m sure you already know everything I’m going to say, but I could not in good conscience let it go unsaid. I was a student in the author’s senior AP English class at the American School of Paris, 2005-2006, as well as a close friend of the girl he had an affair with during that time. I wonder if you had done much research into the author’s past or his time at the American School of Paris (ASP). I would like to think that you may not have published this manuscript as a novel had you known it was strictly true.
    It’s not a bad book, I read it in one 5 hour sitting; but then again I had the advantage of already knowing the entire story. Within the author’s retelling of my senior year of high school every plot point of significance was lifted directly from reality. The characters can all be generally identified as real teachers and students, all the major events are true, and the chronology is accurate.
    Everyone from ASP has been talking non-stop about this book from the first press-release on. Rumors and speculation have been making the rounds, and now that we all have read it, there is more gossip still. This book stirred up a lot of unnecessary and unwanted memories for everyone, especially for the young woman in question. I happen to know that she has received emails from former teachers inquiring how she “feels” about the book. I am simply bringing this up as evidence that I am by no means the only one who acknowledges the extreme similarities between the book and reality. And because of the lack of disguise, there is speculation about what is factual and what is fiction. Of course there are things that were invented, but those readers, who were not as close to the events and cannot distinguish, are likely mis-attributing actions and dialogue. Because of the sensitive nature of the events, it seems wrong to bring them up again like this, without the author clarifying his intentions.
    Ironic, that the main theme of the book is bravery vs. cowardice, and yet the brave thing to do would have been to publish it as a memoir, or at least based on a true story; for the author to put himself out there and really confront the repercussions of his actions. Lucky for him, he wasn’t fired from the school, simply asked to resign, which I will attribute to the cowardice of the school board and their aversion to negative publicity. From what I understand the incident never went on his record.
    Let me be clear, I am not moralizing about the events portrayed in the book. I am questioning the ethics of labeling this book as a novel when I think you will find many, many people who can verify almost every occurrence and character. There can be no doubt that the author wrote this in part to process the events and his role in them. The writing and even the publishing of this book is not so much what concerns me. Call it what it is, some type of non-fiction. I am quite a fan of yours and that’s part of the reason I was surprised that you would have been involved in this project if you knew what I’ve relayed. Despite being two completely different situations, the fact that you bravely wrote a memoir about your experience and this author chose to shield himself with a work of fiction pretty much sums up my point. This book could have been a more authentic and demanding experience for the reader and more cathartic for the author had he followed your lead by writing a memoir or at least a “based on a true story”.
    With fiction, the author has freed himself to explore character’s voices and thoughts that he would not otherwise be able to had he written a memoir. I understand that this is what makes the book so appealing and intriguing. Considering that his characters are primarily real people, we can safely say that he has put words in their mouths and even distorted those things they actually did say. All of us from ASP are painfully aware that this is not fiction and that the young woman is having this period of her life put under a microscope again, as if it wasn’t bad enough the first time around.
    I hope I have made some points that you will take into consideration when working with this author in the future. I have tried to keep my own feelings about the events out of this letter, although I’m sure you can guess them. But I sincerely believe that this was the wrong way to go about things and I hope you can see our side…those of us for whom this wasn’t a novel.


  2. Wow I liked the novel alot was going to finnish it and then googled to see more about the author, upon finding out this info I am really disgusted that not only is this story true, I can see how Maksik must be a real egomaniac.
    I am so surprised that Alice Sebold would have been apart f this novel if she would have known the whole truth. If she did not know the whole truth and she should have researched this author more. I am angry that in any way I have supported this man by buying his book!

  3. I read this book last year and am just now reading some of the revelations that have since come out about it. My review is based on my perception of the book as fiction, however, new readers are encouraged to read this article before taking the book on.

    Though Maksik has some literary talent, his character is deeply in question and I will not ignore this when discussing his work with others.

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