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Authors: Alexander Maksik

Shelter in Place

BOOK: Shelter in Place

You Deserve Nothing
is rivetingly plotted and beautifully written . . . [Maksik] writes about the moral ambiguity of Will's circumstances with dazzling clarity and impressive philosophical rigor.

—Adam Langer,
The New York Times


You Deserve Nothing
is a powerful, absorbing novel . . . Maksik is an unusually gifted writer.”

—Tom Perrotta, author of
The Abstinence Teacher
The Leftovers


“With writing that is reminiscent of James Salter's in its sensuality, Francine Prose's capacious inquiry into difficult moral questions and Martin Amis's loose-limbed evocation of the perils of youth, Maksik brings us back to that point in all our lives when character is molten, integrity elusive and beauty unbearably thrilling.”

—Susan Salter Reynolds,
The Christian Science Monitor


“The phrase ‘brilliant debut' is much overused in our world, but Alexander Maksik's 
You Deserve Nothing
 is truly one of those rarest of creatures, a brilliant debut.”

—Ben Fountain, author of
Billy Linn's Long Halftime Walk


“A Marker to Measure Drift
is a bold book . . . Maksik has illuminated for us with force and art an all too common species of suffering.”

—Norman Rush, 
The New York Times Book Review


“Poetic, often mesmerizing . . . faultlessly lyrical . . .
A Marker to Measure Drift
is about compassion; perhaps it's even a masterclass in compassion.”

The Sydney Morning Herald


“No novel I read this year affected me more powerfully than
A Marker to Measure Drift

—Richard Russo, author of
Everybody's Fool


“A sensitive and beautiful novel . . . The emotional power of this luminous and tragic story, suggestive of the work of Albert Camus, is striking.”

Paris Match


“Immensely powerful . . . Beautifully written . . . Jacqueline is a mesmerizing heroine . . . She is alive on the page from the outset, and with each paragraph she deepens, grows more complicated.”

The Boston Globe


“Haunting and sensual, Maksik's prose deftly intertwines the tenderness and torment of memory with the hard reality of searching for sustenance and shelter.”



“Beautiful . . .
A Marker to Measure Drift
will leave you breathless and speechless; it will send you reeling.”

The San Francisco Chronicle


You Deserve Nothing


A Marker to Measure Drift

Europa Editions
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
[email protected]
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2016 by Alexander Maksik
First publication 2016 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
Cover photo © B.Aa. Sætrenes
ISBN 9781609453688

Alexander Maksik


To Madhuri in the rain.

For us back then, to live seemed almost to die.
—Galway Kinnell
I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
with so many incidents, so many details.
And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.
—CP Cavafy
In the Same Space


n the summer of 1991 my mother beat a man to death with a twenty-two ounce Estwing framing hammer and I fell in love with Tess Wolff.

Now, many years later, they have both disappeared and I am alone here on this pretty clearing in the woods.

Alone, save for the tar and the bird and the other thing, for which I have no name.


d taken my father's Wagoneer in to be serviced. This was in late August, nearly two months ago now.

Tess was in the garden when I left.

Like a miracle, we had fat strawberries all summer long and she was out there filling a basket with them. I was dressed for town, standing on the deck, looking down at her in the sun.

I said, “I'm going.”

She was kneeling in the dirt and, when she heard my voice, looked up at me, shielded her eyes, smiled and raised the brimming basket.

A few hours later, when I returned home, she was gone.

Her note was held to this table by a white bowl full of berries. They were still wet, as if washing them were an afterthought.

She wrote, “I am too various to be trusted. But I am safe and I love you. T.”


his table, always too large for that little dining room in Capitol Hill, fits perfectly here. We have six of my father's cherrywood chairs.

Four too many. Or five by the look of it.

Before me are glass doors framed in pine and mounted on tracks so that there can be no separation between the dining room and our deck, our deck and the clearing, the clearing and the forest. It is an extravagance. In winter we lose heat.

We built this house to bring the outside in. I wanted as little separation as possible and that is what we have.

We can slide back the walls.

Our neighbors are miles away.

Through the glass I look out on our green clearing. Soon to be brown, soon to be white. And beyond that, maybe a hundred yards from where I sit, is dense, old-growth pine forest. The clearing was here when we bought the property. It's why we bought it. Why we built.

The clearing at the end of the road. Like a fairy tale, a children's story of good and evil and adventure. A knight, a damsel. A witch, two children and their great courage. One way in, one way out. No neighbors nearby. Just us and the animals. Deer. Elk. Moose. Owls. Hawks. Foxes. If you sit here long and still enough, you see them all. They come peeking out of the woods, poking their heads into the open space, sniffing the air. The elk, the moose, the deer, they come to graze. The others, they come to hunt.

It is a place we're proud of. This house on a hill. Ours. All wood and glass and river rock. One long rectangle full of light. On the second floor, like a crow's nest, is nothing but our bedroom and bathroom. All the rest is downstairs—a kitchen and a dining room and a living room all running together. There's a guest room in the back. A small office. Two bathrooms. An entire wall of books facing the fireplace. We built it ourselves. That's what we say, anyway. But, of course, we had help. Still, it's our vision. And a lot of our labor too. It is a place we love, a place entirely ours. It is quiet and calm. Which is what we wanted more than anything else. Quiet and peace above all. And logic, I think.

We wanted a place of good systems. Or I did. And that is what we've had.


isten, I am trying to survive.

Days here I'm barely hanging on. Talking to myself. Talking to my parents. To Claire. To you.

I'm trying to put it all in order, arrange it into something with clear borders and clean logic.

First off, you have to understand this tar and bird bullshit. I'm nowhere if I can't translate that.

Second, there's no single word. That's the fucking problem. Or one of them.

I am trying to translate into language two experiences for which all language is inadequate.

I'm not going to tell you everything. You should know that from the start. I won't answer all of your questions. This is not every single thing. It is only one version. Please remember that.

Also, there will be no continuous rhythm.

We the erratic keep terrible time.


was twenty in 1991, living in Los Angeles in a grim but glorious studio apartment with its balcony overlooking Pico Boulevard. Two beach chairs and a hibachi. My last year at Cal State Northridge. I was happy. As far as I knew, we all were. My parents in Seattle, my sister, Claire, in London, at LSE. The brains and ambition of our family. Aside from school, I was bartending at Chez Jay, a famous little dive on Ocean Avenue where rich kids and movie stars came slumming. More than once Claire told me to transfer to UCLA. Do something with your life. Sure, I always said, but never got around to it. I didn't much give a shit. Wasn't very curious. Didn't worry, didn't plan the way she did. Wasn't a snob the way she was. I had no intention of becoming Secretary of State. Lucky for the State. I was okay to go along, wander. I liked pouring drinks. I liked my wrecked Toyota pickup, the girls who came to see me at the bar, ruling over my little fiefdom four nights a week.

But out of the thinnest air, without warning, it arrived in my body.

Landed there.

A leaden thing, whose form and quality shifts constantly in both memory and present mind.

Then, the first time, its arrival was sharp and sudden. Came with the force and surprise of a solid sucker punch. Or as if someone had spiked my drink. Or pushed a needle into my arm, pressed the plunger.

I was on my bed, back against the wall. Me and my same constant self.

And then whatever it is took hold: a sickening, narcotic feeling of terrible weight. I don't know what to call it.

I never have.

There is that word they use, but it is severely insufficient and one I loathe.

I'm not talking about sadness.

I am not despondent.

I am talking about the body. I'm talking about invasion and possession. This is a physical thing.

I am not fucking
. I am not
feeling low
. I'm not

Look, one moment I was a strong, happy kid reading a book. And then
out of thin air
it arrived in the dead center of my chest: a dull, cold pain.

It knocked the paperback from my hand. It closed my eyes and there in the dark I saw thick tar inching through my body.

Then, as the pain sharpened, a blue-black bird, its talons piercing my lungs.

Say what you will. These were the things I saw.

It is both animal and substance.

There is no logic to this, I understand, yes. Nonetheless, I am telling you what appeared behind my closed eyes in that shitty apartment I once loved: creeping tar, blue-black bird, talons.

The weight nails me to the floor. It deadens my arms; it draws me down. The substance closes my throat. It pulls at the backs of my eyes.

Now I am accustomed to it. Now I have ways to fight. Methods of battle. But not then when I was so young, on that morning when it first arrived.

I didn't leave my room for three days. Made no phone calls. I don't remember sleeping. Only sitting on my bed, or the floor, or in one of those plastic-ribboned rainbow chairs on the balcony watching the traffic lights change, trying to decipher their codes.

And then this beast, this creeping invader vanished as quickly as it had come. The greasy film lifted from my eyes, the weight gone, the pain, too. The bird took flight. As if it had never been there at all.

I went back to work, and back to class.

I expected red wounds, dried blood, but the terror and violence of those days were like awful guests vanished in the night.


n the spring my parents drove down to Los Angeles in my father's Baltic Blue Wagoneer. Claire came from London wearing expensive clothes and a new haircut.

At dinner that evening we all watched her tell stories about her friends, about her job trading commodities, something none of us understood. It seemed we were watching a woman we barely knew pretending to be Claire. She was as theatrical as she'd always been, but now she'd become a person of accomplishment and confidence. As if she were the adult at the table, and we her children. I half expected the waiter to deliver her the check and the truth is that even then she had more money to burn than our parents did, or ever would. Our parents, Claire's audience, both amazed, thinking, I'm sure, who is this odd and lovely person, and what does she have to do with us? My father, catching me looking at him, his face so full of pride and wonder and love, smiled to say, look at this woman, your sister, where on earth did she come from?

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