I just finished Alexander Maksik's new novel, You Deserve Nothing, in almost one sitting--in a moral vacuum, I found it a delightful mix of highbrow sentences with lowbrow subject matter (rather like Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal--which is, by the way, far better than the movie). In this novel, Paris gives the reader just what the armchair traveler wishes for--cafes, croissants*, idealism, beauty, romance--and existentialism, moral ambiguity, disillusionment, and heartbreak.
And then I read this: How A Teacher’s Alleged Student Affair Became His Acclaimed ‘Novel’.
And now I feel ill.
Did any of you have the same reaction? Did you like the book? Do you believe the rumors? (I have a hard time imagining the real life Marie would make such a thing up--and can only imagine how she feels.)
Is this better than what James Frey did--or worse? How much of a work needs to change from the original (or real life) version for it to be considered, by the well-researched public, fiction--and to what extent does this need to be provable? Should we assume all first novels are, to some degree, autobiographical? And, if so, when do we assume they're harming others? Should he have taken a pen name--and would that have made it better?
|See footnote about croissants in this novel.|
This image is taken from Pastry Paris: In Paris, Everything Looks Like Dessert, which is a great gift book for the Francophiles in your life.
Regardless, if I were his agent or his editor (and he hadn't told me, or I hadn't noticed, the fact that he was fired from the same school as the one in the novel), I'd be very upset.
And would be somewhat annoyed with his way of describing the teacher (or, er, himself) as so charming, attractive, doted-upon, brilliant, sophisticated, talented, sexy--even if morally flawed. But that's a minor point.
What do you think? Have you read the book? Did you like it? And can we enjoy fiction even while knowing that it is, likely, true?
* There are at least twelve croissants in this book. I would count, but I'd rather spend my time eating them. Several were filled with chocolate.