You Deserve Nothing
By Alexander Maksik
Will Silver is a handsome, thirty-something teacher at the International School of France. He is the kind of teacher who is inspiring and adored. He encourages, or provokes, creative thinking from his students as they read Camus, Sartre, Faulkner, Keats and discuss issues of social justice, ethical living and discovering the truth. To his rather sophisticated students Mr. Silver is cool, composed, and a man of action; someone they aspire to be, or in some cases, to be with. To the extent that Will himself is able to act in accordance with these socially conscious choices, it turns out that the best choices are hard to make and the worst choices are sometimes the most compelling.
In particular we see the effect of Mr. Silver’s passion on Marie, a junior who doesn’t want to party with her socialite crowd; Colin, a rough and tumble Irish boy with high expectations of bravery and action; and Gilad, a shadowy figure with a troubled home life. While Mr. Silver is encouraging them to push the envelope of thought and action, the concepts of morality and lawlessness hover over everything.
Will Silver is haunted by choices of his past; guilt over a broken marriage and grief over the death of his parents, and is dealing with his own sense of alienation. His own resolve is tested after witnessing a random act of violence and an outbreak at a political rally. With a deft touch, Maksik explores the difficulties of living up to one’s own ideals.
This is very much a novel of Paris. The romance, history and vibrancy of the city seem to cast a spell on the characters. As Maksik describes the lighting, the streets, the imposing architecture, we can feel the pull of the history and the energy of the surroundings. It’s a wonder anyone can escape this erotic city without having a life-changing moment.
While the premise of You Deserve Nothing may be considered time-worn (teacher/student involvement), Maksik has created such complete characters with thoroughly developed inner lives that he makes it plausible that such an event could happen and not be met with revulsion. Maksik’s choice to tell the story from three voices, looking, almost casually, back on the events, gives the narrative a haunting and surreal quality that suits the introspective tone of this wonderful debut novel.