Luminous tale follows Liberian refugee
Maksik is clearly no stranger to travel, but although beach-readers might be drawn to the radiant blue Aegean depicted on the cover, Drift is the opposite of a casual summer read.
This is not entirely due to the novel’s subject matter. Maksik is both deft and lyrical, a master of tense — his shifts from past to present and back again are nearly invisible, so appropriate do they feel — and a sensualist, and it is impossible to read Drift with less than total attention.
Most of the action of the novel derives from Jacqueline’s day-to-day pursuit of basic needs — shelter, water and, most pressingly, food. Occasionally her hunger is satiated, and these moments approach the spiritual in their focus: “She put a forkful of the eggs onto the toast and then Jacqueline began to eat. The immediate pleasure. The feeling of warm food in her mouth, the flavour of the eggs, the overwhelming taste of salt, the faint burn of pepper. Everything else had been annihilated.”
In one sense Jacqueline is entirely alone, and Maksik’s brilliance is evident in his ability to keep the novel’s strippeddown cast and plot so riveting.
But in another, perhaps realer sense, Jacqueline’s psyche is populated with persistent visitors — the voice of her mother by turns guiding, berating and soothing her; shadows of her cheerful sister eternally painting her toenails; and the caressing hands of her lost lover.
Memory, in A Marker to Measure Drift, is both a gift and a curse: “She began to understand that to live, one must be able to live with memory because memory was the constant. Even for her, even in such a precarious life… still, memory was the constant.”
There are many kinds of grief, many shades of loss. Ultimately, Drift explores a particularly dark palette of trauma, the kind that — in the hands of a lesser writer — could easily diminish other types of suffering.
But it is a sign of Drift’s power that Jacqueline’s experience of loss only brings her closer, step by step, to the reader’s own; and if the novel’s conclusion doesn’t offer garden-variety closure, it does satisfy more than one form of hunger.