A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik is a psychological drama of a young woman who has miraculously survived unspeakable violence and who is now trying to deal with her present while coping with her past.
Jacqueline may have escaped the horrors committed against her family and the people in her native country of Liberia, but though she’s now safe, living in Greece, she is totally in the grips of her past, unable to escape her painful memories.
This survivor of bloodcurdling crime lives in a cave on the coast, accessed only at low tide. She is heartbroken, alone, penniless, and starving. Her dead mother is such a constant presence in her mind, comforting, admonishing, criticizing or encouraging her, that she is unable to make a single decision, however minor, without mentally seeking her advice.
Jacqueline desperately wants human contact, but having gone through hell back home, she is suspicious of everyone in this country too, to the extent of paranoia, so she shuns any kind of attachment to others, even those who are trying to reach out to her.
The only source of solace for Jacqueline is nature: the sea that she bathes and swims in; the sand on the beach that she walks or lies on; the breeze that brings her relief from the heat; the sun by which she starts and ends her day. (Maksik’s description of nature is masterful, by the way.)
We don’t know how exactly her family died until the end of the novel. Throughout the narration, the tragedy of her family unravels piece by piece through Jacqueline’s thoughts and flashbacks. Only at the very end do we find out what exactly happened, and it absolutely horrifies us. And not only do we understand to the full extent this young woman’s behavior, now that she’s out of danger, but we also understand that we would probably act in the same way. After all, the emotional scars that she received are hard to heal, if ever.
The author left the ending unclear. We don’t know whether Jacqueline will contact the man she loves, or her friends in London, or whether she will build her future on her own. Or whether she will have a future at all. But we do hope that she will.
In the interview by The Writer magazine (Nov. 2013), Alexander Maksik talks about how he created his protagonist: “I thought about her all the time, and I imagined her waiting for me to move her along when I wasn’t writing. It was this strangely obsessive, highly intense experience, but I learned a great deal about writing because I was capable of falling in love with a fictional character.”
That’s what it takes to create a fully-developed, flesh and blood character. Just like the author, I’ve fallen in love with this proud, sensitive, strong, self-reliant young woman. She is so real to me, I would love to meet her.
A Marker to Measure Drift is a lyrical and profound novel, and unforgettable too. Five stars!