Luminous tale fol­lows Liberian refugee

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

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.

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