A Marker to Measure Drift: A Novel by Alexander Maksik (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. 222 pp)

Alexander Maksik is the author of the novel You Deserve Nothing. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his writing has appeared in Harper’s, Tin House, Harvard Review, The New York Times Magazine, Salon, and Narrative Magazine, among others, and has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Lost and Stories

The popular television show, Lost, has eternally changed the way in which stories are told in the Western culture. Thousands tuned in to see a plane crash, only to find that was only the beginning. A mystery unraveled, piece by piece, until its finality. We were captivated for six years, only to be disappointed in the end. The mystery had become too large, and the masses grumbled.

In A Marker to Measure Drift, author Alexander Maksik brings us into a similar world of mystery. But, he does something different. There was no grumbling from me in the end.

A Heroine in Poverty

Jacqueline is the twenty-four year old heroine of the novel. As the book opens the reader knows nothing about her other than that she is desperate, homeless, and alone on the idyllic landscape of the Aegean island Santorini. She lives alone (other than memories of her mother’s advice in her own head) in a cave accessible only at low tide, which alone is fraught with danger.

“You must be careful, her mother said. To break an ankle would be to destroy your life. Better to fall and crack your skull open and die. Jacqueline mad her way to the edge of the cave. The birds screamed and flew off to a nearby boulder, where they stood and watched her…This was the only move, a step, two steps, that posed any threat. The rock was damp and not quite flat. Her right foot, which would require all of her weight, could slip from under her, and if that happened she would fall” (10).

Even as she walks around the great beaches nearby, danger is present. Some Senegalese men begin to watch her, and her mother’s voice says “move on”. We don’t know why, at this point, these men are dangerous to her. In the beginning stages of the novel, and with hunger pangs growing more severe, the simplest things in life matter the most to Jacqueline.

“She had lost track of time. There were only the fundamental events of her life, the sensual elements, and the places themselves. In fact, all of it, well, no, not all (but control), had blurred, was fading from clear image to murky sensation. Everything behind her, even the very most recent life, seemed to have lost its form or structure in her memory so that those events, those people, those places, had become clouded and obscure and existed only as a kind of aftertaste” (25).

Mysterious Memories

When not evading pimps or walking up the beach and sizing tourists up, she daydreams. During these daydreams, memories of her past life filter into the story, slowly illuminating the larger narrative of her life. We see lovers, billowing curtains in plush hotel rooms, a pregnant sister. Some stories are still more shocking: embezzlement, a somewhat manic boyfriend. Her internal struggles echo a cacophony of past evils. Juxtaposed on a beautiful Greek island, a friendship begins to evolve at a local restaurant she frequents. She orders coffee she can barely afford, and a waitress shows her kindness.

Ultimately, the question of survival is of great importance. The reader does have a vested interest in this heroine’s survival. But, beyond survival there is something more. What brought Jacqueline to Santorini? Maksik unveils these two scenarios with an artful, masterful ease, while all the while making Jacqueline seem like she’s going insane, talking to the voices of her mother and father. Many factors converge towards the ending of the novel, a mystery that unravels all the way towards the end. A Marker to Measure Drift is truly well written. No grumbling for me.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

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