Caring For an Ill and Aging Parent From a Distance
Alexander Maksik at Beyond the Page: The Best of the
Sun Valley Writers' Conference
Welcome to Beyond the Page: The Best of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference. Over the past 25 years, SVWC has become the gold standard of American literary festivals, bringing together contemporary writing’s brightest stars for their view of the world through a literary lens. Every month, Beyond the Page curates and distills the best talks from the past quarter century at the Writers’ Conference, giving you a front row seat on the kind of knowledge, inspiration, laughter, and meaning that Sun Valley is known for.
What happens, what emotional threads get pulled, when halfway around the globe a father gets sick from Covid? In an evocative personal essay for The New Yorker, “My Father’s Voice from Paris,” novelist Alexander Maksik faces those questions and all the attendant thoughts and feelings provoked by them. Living in Maui with his wife, the novelist Madhuri Vijay, and his 6-month-old daughter Ela, Maksik’s only contact with his father was through the phone. He listened as his father grew weaker knowing he could not go to him. It is both a story for our time and a timeless one about a son’s love for a father. In this episode of Beyond the Page, Xander talks with Anne Taylor Fleming, associate director of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, about the essay, about fatherhood and about Paris, the city both father and son know intimately.
From the interview:
I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve ever thought of my father as fragile, but I think it’s the first time I’ve ever confronted the possibility of his death in a real way. My dad is in good shape. He’s a runner. He takes care of himself. He prides himself on his physical fitness and has always done so. I’ve been very lucky in that both of my parents are that way and healthy and active. But this is the first time I’ve ever, ever heard him that way. I’ve never heard him so weak. He’s a proud, if not occasionally vain man. He’s made every effort to appear invincible to me, as is true of so many fathers.
I suppose this was the first time I saw him or heard him rather abandon any pretense at that invincibility. The vanity was gone altogether. He just sort of allowed himself to be weak in front of me, and I could see that weakness. In many ways it made me feel closer to him because … I honestly don’t know. I think it may be here and there. I’ve seen it, but I don’t know that I saw it with his permission, if you know what I mean. He tried so hard and for so long to appear without flaw, and I think he gave up. I don’t know if he consciously did that, but I think it was the disease that made it impossible for him to pretend. I felt there was a tenderness that I saw there or felt that was of a variety unfamiliar to me beforehand.
Alexander Maksik is the author of three novels: You Deserve Nothing, a New York Times and IndieBound bestseller; A Market to Measure Drift, a New York Times Notable Book, as well as a finalist for the William Saroyan Prize and Le Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger; and, most recently, Shelter In Place, named one of the best books of the year by the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle.