Jacqueline, the protagonist of Alexander Maksik’s “A Marker to Measure Drift” (Knopf, 222 pages, $24.95), has escaped horrors in Liberia. But now she is alone and suffering on an Aegean island, haunted by memories and the voice of her mother, struggling to find shelter and sustenance, and unwilling or unable to seek the help she urgently needs.
Maksik, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who will participate in the Iowa City Book Festival in October, is able to take us inside Jacqueline’s head without allowing us to lose our way. This is no small feat.
While the book isn’t stream of consciousness, there is a narrative voice that is not Jacqueline’s and we are privy to the shifting sands of her thoughts , and those thoughts are driven by trauma and by deprivation. Her sense of time shifts and her moment by moment perception is impaired.
All of this is palpable and affecting. It could have — just as easily have — been impenetrable and confusing, but Maksik has taken care to ensure that it is not.
He also has infused his tale of suffering with the loveliness of his prose. Here, Jacqueline awaits a breakfast on which she is spending a good portion of her hard won and meager funds: “While she waited, Jacqueline tried not to worry. She tried only to wait. She tried to wait without memory. She tried to wait with the light on her table and the upright menu and the salt and the pepper and the ceramic rectangle that held the sugar packets. She wondered what that rectangle was called. A sugar packet holder? She wondered where they were made and how one buys a sugar packet holder. She tried to lose herself in this wondering, but it was no good.”
The desperate rhythms of thought intended to hold deeper desperation at bay are on display throughout this beautiful book that plumbs the depths of misery both mental and physical.