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Literary author tests rules of fact and fiction.

Byline: Hillel Italie

NEW YORK -- Alexander Maksik, a 40-year-old literary novelist, has learned a great deal about life and art and the unexpected ways they can meet.

A graduate of the University of Iowa's celebrated creative writing school, he is a widely praised author whose books include "You Deserve Nothing,'' about an American teacher in Paris fired for having an affair with a student, and a new release, "A Marker to Measure Drift,'' about a homeless Liberian woman on a Greek island.

But in an otherwise exemplary career, there is one catch: "You Deserve Nothing'' was based on real events, about Maksik and his student, and has become the subject of ongoing debate. Several one-star reviews appeared on Amazon.com, from commenters alleging that they were former students at the American School of Paris who were disgusted by the book. Some reviewers who liked "You Deserve Nothing'' were unsettled when they learned of the similarities, first revealed on the website Jezebel, between the author and his character.

"At the first hint that the affair -- between a 17-year-old girl and a 33-year-old man -- was real, I felt my stomach twist,'' wrote Brian Hurley of fictionadvocate.com. "What had been a racy, convention-defying romance in the novel suddenly felt like a craven, embarrassing scandal.''

Maksik has been reluctant to discuss the controversy, but spoke at length about it during a recent interview with The Associated Press. Drinking tea at a cafe on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Maksik is as regretful about his private behavior as he is forceful about his right to use it for his novel, one he thinks should be liked or dismissed based on the quality of the book itself.

"I was in bad shape, and this thing had happened and I wondered how I allowed it to happen, how I had made all these decisions,'' says Maksik, whose graying hair is offset by his youthful, open expression.

"And it was a very upsetting time for me. I was humiliated. I was ashamed and angry at myself and angry in general. And this was the only thing I thought I could do,'' he says. "It was an effort to make sense of what had happened, and an effort to turn this horrible experience into some version of art.''

Maksik is in privileged company when it comes to turning private experience into literary material. Truman Capote alienated high society friends when he transcribed their intimate conversations into his novel "Answered Prayers.'' John Cheever drew upon embarrassing family moments for his short stories.
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Italie, Hillel
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 3, 2013
Words:422
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