Monday, March 18, 2013

Schroder: A Novel by Amity Gaige,

Ripped from the headlines of the newspaper, Schroder: A Novel by Amity Gaige, is loosely based on the story of a man who fooled everybody, with a false identity that unraveled when he kidnapped his own child. I remember reading about it vaguely, and wondered how someone could lead a double life and get away with it. How could his wife not know? How could he not slip up somewhere?

Gaige reconstructs the unbelievable. Recounting his story in a jail, Schroder explains how he created a false persona, intimating a loose connection to American royalty, the Kennedy's, in order to gain the positive attention he desired.

The book is a confession, guilt ridden and horrifying in the notion that we may not know as much as we thing we do about the people around us.

Eric Kennedy is a chimera. Disconnected and isolated in his real persona, he adapts an all American facade to hide his foreign self. Living with a stoic and emotionally dead father, he is able to perpetrate his fraud in the laxed end of the last century. Without an Internet, ways to verify information, the world in it's pre 911 innocence accepts people for who they say they are.

Schroder disassociates himself from his German father, reinventing himself at college, later falling in love and building a life. He embodies the American Dream, successful at real estate, this couple moves on to the next step of life, parenthood. As disengaged with his childhood as his own father, he rediscovers a brilliant and delightful child when after the economy crashes, he becomes a stay at home dad. While, I found myself repulsed by what I know he ultimately does, I couldn't help liking the character, in spite of himself.

Watching him disintegrate, his lies interfere with his divorce, he is cast aside in his daughter's life. Desperate to be with her, he kidnaps her and they share a "vacation", special father daughter time and watch him try to salvage his life. When he is compelled to surrender, I found myself angry at the system and circumstances that forced him to lie about his life. Is he a bad person who lied or a good person forced to live a lie? Can we all say that we live completely transparent or do omit things ourselves to put the patina of acceptability on us.

Well written, Gaige is terrific at taking an unlikable person and making him sympathetic without being maudlin. We can't help but like this flawed character, his love for his wife and child superseding his desperate personality.

Schroder is a great book. It's the story of the promise of America, dreams of acceptance and comfort destroyed by false foundations. Fast paced, well written. Amity Gaige writes with a keen understanding of human frailty and is a voice that needs to be heard.

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