Alibi V.22 No.35 • Aug 29-Sept 4, 2013 

Book Review

Drifting Toward the Surface

A Marker to Measure Drift

Alexander Maksik
Knopf
hardcover
fiction
$24.95

A Marker To Measure Drift isn't an easy read; just know that right now. Alexander Maksik's new novel is the type of book to invest not only time and energy, but feeling. The book follows a girl named Jacqueline who struggles to find food every day as she walks the beaches of the Aegean Sea, watching tourists sunbathe, but she also battles a horrific past that only comes to fruition the more you read. As she mindfully navigates the ruins of a lost city or naps in a cave overlooking the ocean, she envisions herself as another member of society, one that hasn't lost anything by remembering all that she used to have.

In prose that’s beautiful yet elegiac, Maksik makes a point of slowly revealing Jacqueline's days before she became an aimless wanderer. Through these vague windows, we come to understand what's plaguing her and why she still retains such vivid images of the political turmoil of her upbringing in Liberia. The book gradually explains the weight of those experiences on the lives of her family members and why they're not around. Memories of her family members become so realistic and frequent that Jacqueline begins to confuse memory with reality, actually speaking to them as if they are still with her.

As a reader, it's possible to become befuddled by the narration because Jacqueline is disoriented at times. On the one hand, it's easy to sympathize with Jacqueline and wonder how humans adapt to that specific state of hunger, both internal and metaphorical. But on the other, the absence of action creates a stillness that at times seems comforting and at times can come off a little stale.

If I were to compare it to a film, it would be a Sofia Coppola film if she shot in Greece. The reader follows Jacqueline as she goes from city to city along the sea, as she encounters individuals both good and bad (including a heartfelt moment where Jacqueline finally opens up to waitress Katarina) and as she recalls what came before this particular existence. Armed with a bag that contains some fruit, nuts, a bottle of water and maybe a few euros to get her through the day, Jacqueline may not be a hero, but she's a realistic portrait of someone struggling for redemption and a hot meal.