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.