Twelve Books Publishing puts out only 12 books each year, featuring what they consider the best and the brightest. Schroder, by Amity Gaige, is the first entry for 2013.
Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder – a first-generation East German immigrant – adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.
SCHRODER relates the story of Eric’s urgent escape years later to Lake Champlain, Vermont, with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amid a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life to understand – and maybe even explain – his behavior: the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.
Schroder is told in first person as an apology of sorts, an explanation, of how a man can lie about who he is and one day be compelled to kidnap his own daughter. The narrator, Eric, has been described by many readers as unreliable, and I agree. He is, after all, a habitual liar and largely self-centered. He deals in tall tales and immediate gratification, which he seems to write off as creativity and love of life. He is intelligent and sensitive and full of eccentricities. And several times in the book, I just wanted to punch him in the nose.
It’s easy enough to fall for his innocent charm. Because it does seem innocent; there doesn’t seem to be any malice in any silly, foolish thing he does. And he is charming, almost unwittingly so; he would have to be for so many people to buy his fabricated life story. Ultimately, his real life story is heartbreaking enough for anyone to feel sympathetic to how he chooses to flee from it, both in identity and then in fact.
Beyond a character study of the narrator, Schroder is also a poignant, heartbreaking look at marriage and parenthood. At what each takes from us, and what each gives to us. Although it was difficult to relate to Eric himself, I could definitely identify with the emotional landscape he travels as a spouse and parent.
Peripheral characters in Schroder – Eric’s daughter Meadow, a woman they meet (April), Eric’s wife and father – are drawn at varying degrees of clarity, each with their own purpose in Eric’s story. Even at 6, Meadow seems as eccentric as her father (and more like 16 than 6), April makes a brief appearance but a lasting impression, and though the source of so much powerful love and sadness, his wife Laura seems more like a ghost than an actual person. Also ghost-like is Eric’s father, though like Laura, he is clearly responsible for deep emotional currents in Eric’s life. It’s almost as if Eric’s lighter treatment of these two characters reveals where he feels most vulnerable and tender.
Gaige’s writing is gorgeous, regularly described as lyrical, and flowing with phrases I wanted to underline. I will say that in following the narrator’s eccentric mind, there are several instances of footnotes and asides, all of which I skipped. Otherwise, Schroder is a quick read and provides a compelling dive into a character’s heart and mind. I think it’s greatest impact for me was how deftly it combined both the bitter and sweet, and the message that through all of life’s complications, love is the surest thing we hold on to.
*Disclosure: I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.
**Affiliate links included.