YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION
Speaking of Egon Schiele and “Adrien Brody,” Jezebel ran an exclusive exposé in November about the novel You Deserve Nothing, by Alexander Maksik. You Deserve Nothing is about a thirty-something teacher at an American international school in Paris who has an affair with, and impregnates, one of his seventeen-year-old students. Turns out (according to Jezebel) Maksik was a teacher at an American international school in Paris who had an affair with, and impregnated, one of his seventeen-year-old students.
We can all probably agree that sleeping with a student at the high school where you teach is a significant ethical fail. (Although apparently not illegal; the age of consent in France, according to Wikipedia, is fifteen.) However, the Jezebel writer also seems to take the position that it’s reprehensible for Maksik to have written a novel about events based on his own life without asking his former student’s permission first.
I strongly disagree. Would the former student need to ask Maksik’s permission to write her own novel about the experience? Of course not. (I’d like to read that novel, actually.) That said, if I were her, I’d be upset too. I’m very happy that no one has ever turned trauma from my personal life into fiction and gotten praised by the New York Times for doing so. I might pick apart the motives of a person who did something like that, but I would never make the argument that they didn’t have the right to do it. It’s worth noting that You Deserve Nothing is fairly self-lacerating, and in no way reads like a celebration of or excuse for the protagonist’s behavior.
In any case, I finally read You Deserve Nothing recently. It’s terrific, rich in language and character, thoughtful and perceptive, sometimes beautiful. The prose reminded me of James Salter; the characterization and dialogue were more modern and the most apt comparison I can make is maybe to Francine Prose at her best (Blue Angel, for example). It’s probably the best novel I’ve read in the last couple months.