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Three Guys One Book: "Nothing Short of Breathtaking."

Date: Aug 22 2011

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You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

By Jason Rice


This book has been my constant companion for the last three days. It is nothing short of breathtaking. Now it’s over, and will ruin the next book I read. Lily Tuck had nearly the same kind of impression on me. Her book can be in the same room with this one, but I’m buying You Deserve Nothing dinner. When I picked this up, after Jennifer Tyler told me I’d love it (you were right), I was hesitant, but that all evaporated after I read the first few pages, from the point of view of Gilad, who basically rips the cover off the story, breathlessly, and without a hint of irony. Maksik roars to life with this debut novel, and it should do for him what Elegance of the Hedgehog did for Muriel Barbery.

Gilad is the spine of the story. He runs around in circles like the wolf in a game of capture the flag. He is looking for clues, friends, connections, something to take him away from his shit home life.

Will, the powerhouse thread of the narrative, comes through like a force of nature. He is Gilad’s teacher, and becomes everything, before you know it he is the only thing Gilad sees. I really like Gilad, and I know I’m not supposed to; he is not the meat of this novel. His observations are acute, the style in which he interacts with his parents, and Will seems almost fluid, cosmic, even magical. Will isn’t a good guy, or a bad one, if you ask me. He’s a man who is practicing what he’s teaching. He drills Sartre into his students heads, and some free will, which ultimately will blow out his porch light. Set in Paris, You Deserve Nothing captivates you, but it’s more than that.

Oh, wait, it is a love story too. And I hate love stories. But I love this one.

Will teaches his kids in a freestyle fashion. They come to class willing to listen and learn, and he will listen and learn from them. The school in which he teaches seems buttoned up, and he’s a wild card in a stack of red queens. The pages of this book that take place in the classroom are so unique, powerful and hypnotizing, that it reminds me of every teacher I had that really made a difference in my life.

Of course Will is a good-looking lad, and the girls follow him around like he sweats catnip. Trouble is, they are his students. And I was okay with that, even though, this story is about a teacher and his students, of the in-between the sheets variety. If you’re squishy about that kind of thing, get over it and read this book.

Will captures Paris in his observations about his own life, as does Gilad and the two little pebbles that end up in Will’s shoe, Ariel and Marie. I liken Ariel to a wandering puddle of gasoline, and Marie to a bouquet of daisies that never wilt. Paris doesn’t overwhelm, but it is the setting in which passionate things can and do happen. Once Will starts off on his path, we know how it’s going to end, but I was riveted just the same.

This story is undeniable. It’s about a place, time, and captures the inner lives of normal people in a particularly magnetic fashion.