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Schroder: A Novel Hardcover – February 5, 2013

3.7 out of 5 stars 170 customer reviews

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Q&A with Amity Gaige

Amity Gaige

Q. What events in your own life led you to write this book?

A. My son was about three years old when I started this book. He wasn't old enough to be as articulate as Meadow, but he said and did a lot of wise things. For some reason, when I realized how much he could actually understand, I started to get nervous. I hoped I was saying or doing the right thing. But no one is entirely "normal," and occasionally I wondered if what I said and did as a mother wasn't a little eccentric--nothing as inappropriate as Eric, but you know, on the playground it seems like either you're doing something questionable as a parent or somebody else is. So I was very interested in exploring what makes a "good parent," how both parent and child get through the crucible of the early years.

During this same time, my parents separated after forty-four years of marriage. This was a profound disorientation for me. Then, my father--who had been the first and most influential reader of my work, to whom this book is dedicated--fell terminally ill. I moved him up to a hospice home in my town and had to learn how to let him go. Meanwhile, I tried to be cheerful for my son--again, to project a sense of normalcy--but that was getting increasingly harder. Who was I kidding? Anyway, these things end up getting absorbed into the writing of Schroder. The writing heals. Or at least, the writing is a vessel to hold the experience.

Q. In Schroder, the bond between a parent and child dictates a lot of the action. What is it about the nature of this bond that drives Erik? Is there a difference between the bond of a mother and a child versus that of a father and a child?

A. Yes, I think the parental bond is different between genders because men and women are different. But I firmly believe that a bond between a father and child can be as strong as that between a mother and child. Maybe not in the infant years, but beyond. Personally, I think it's really the primary caregiver who knows the child best, whoever feeds and clothes the child and pries sharp objects out of his or her hand (what Eric calls "the relentless being-aware" of the child). For at least a year, Eric is a stay-at-home-dad. He's not a great one, but for the first time he actually pays attention. Anyone who pays attention to his or her child builds a bond. You can't help but respect their miniature successes and failures.

Q. What is it about the theme of identity--from our formative years through how we present ourselves as adults--that attracted you as a writer?

A. Someone once said to me, "All your books are about identity." I think so. Who knows why? I had an early and unsettling awareness of the self as a construct. Sadly, I haven't shaken that. I think we all do a lot of "deciding" who we are; we train ourselves to have certain qualities. But who knows, maybe even then, maybe, some other god-given self shines through, a self that's better or worse than the one we're projecting.

I guess the same thing gets played out in Schroder. Although Erik reinvents himself as Eric, the capable American, he can't totally transform, not convincingly. His injured German boyhood self slips through. Even Laura begins to see this. Before she ever discovers he's a fraud, she senses there is something fraudulent about him. So maybe that's my answer. Maybe there is a "real self" that cannot be renamed or repackaged.

Q. America is a land of opportunity and reinvention. Could Schroder have taken place elsewhere? What is it about the nature of America that allows a boy named Erik Schroder to grow into Eric Kennedy?

A. Yes, this is an American story. America has accepted waves of immigrants throughout its history. Sometimes their names were changed by lazy immigration officials and sometimes the immigrants changed their own names. My mother was one of those people. She came to this country from Latvia when she was eleven, was one of the displaced people of World War II. Her childhood was very hard. She didn't want constant reminders of it, nor her ethnic background. Everyone made fun of her name. You see where this is going...

A lot of people come to the United States to reinvent themselves. It's understandable. Of course, Eric does not legalize his name change, and because he's not a citizen, he's actually committing fraud by accepting Pell Grants, etc. But for me, the only truly immoral thing he does is lie to Laura. A marriage can't be built upon a phony life history.

Q. In many ways, Laura's perspective is absent from the novel. She is a character created out of "negative space." Why did you decide to keep her voice out of the main narrative? Was it hard to exclude her from the central action of the novel?

A. I identify with Laura. Of course, it's kind of like hamstringing yourself to leave a character you relate to out of a novel. But she's there. I hope the reader might glean what she thinks of Eric, why she left him, etc., through the tidbits Eric reveals in the service of other things. But the novel isn't really about why Laura loves or doesn't love Eric. The novel is a love letter--Eric's. It's a long love letter that goes unanswered. I got sad myself writing the end of the letter/novel, when I realized that a "real" Laura probably wouldn't even read it...Meadow will always remain connected to her dad, if only by blood, but Laura can wash her hands of the whole thing. Grown-ups can divorce each other. Kids can't divorce their parents.

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2013: Eric Kennedy has a lot of explaining to do. First, there’s the matter of his fabricating a Massachusetts seaside childhood to hide his East German roots--and his appropriation of the Kennedy name at age 14, a switch he never mentioned to his wife. Then there’s his desperate sort-of accidental post-divorce abduction of their precocious six-year-old daughter, Meadow. Inspired partly by a true story, Amity Gaige's novel tracks the week Eric and Meadow spend on the road, days he remembers as some of the best of his life. This gorgeously expressed, slippery apologia from the once and future Schroder--sympathetic, even in his appalling negligence--limns the limits of self-made American identity, while paying tribute to the irrational exuberance of parental love. --Mari Malcolm

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; First Edition edition (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455512133
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455512133
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #947,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There is such a pervading sense of loss at the heart of Amity Gaige's "Schroder," it's hard not to get emotionally invested in the downward spiral of its central character. An estranged husband and father, on the precipice of losing his family, takes his little girl for a final fling that turns into a manhunt. Is it a gross misunderstanding? Or is it kidnapping? In other hands, the same plot line might have been turned into a thriller or a devastating drama of familial strife. In Gaige's interpretation, though, it is formulated as an introspective journey of self-discovery. The narrative structure of the novel is put together as a tell-all. In the aftermath of the event, the man tries to explain to his wife exactly what happened. The book is one long journal, as seen through his eyes, of what led up to the abduction and what occurred on their flight together. By relating his story, he will come to grips with his own sense of identity.

"Schroder" lives and dies on how much you come to understand and empathize with its protagonist. His complicated life is fraught with poor decisions and make believe fantasies. An immigrant who escaped the tyranny of East Berlin, he has carefully constructed a back story of who he wants to be. But once you start telling lies, you are trapped by them even to the point that the falsehoods become a part of your reality. When he finally associates his purpose with being a husband, of fully loving one other person, he will do anything to maintain the illusion of normalcy even as things become strained. By never accepting himself fully, it is impossible to connect truthfully with another. As the reader, you come to understand the motivations and mistakes that plague his life.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Eric Kennedy - nee Erik Schroder - needs a life he can revise. In ways, he embodies The American Tragedy written by Dreiser over a century ago; he has come to the land of opportunity and reinvention to find a new self.

In so many ways, Erik is a product of wherever he is in time. Born in divided East Berlin, he experienced first-hand the desperation that comes from a physical division. Now, years later, he finds himself in the midst of an acrimonious custody battle for the one person he truly loves: his six-year-old daughter, Meadow. The problem - or one of the problems - is that in the interim, Erik has reinvented himself. He took on the identity of a distant Kennedy cousin (yes, THOSE Kennedys!) to apply to a prestigious camp and later, to earn a Pell Grant that allowed him to gain access to a college education.

It is here - and only here - that the novel slips into inauthenticity. It is difficult to accept that Eric could so seamlessly change identities, even in 1984. He manages to keep his father from visiting him at college and lies to his wife Laura without any detection.

The beauty of this book is that as readers, we slide over that obstacle and accept Eric Kennedy, who is - to put it mildly - an unreliable narrator. His first-person account of the unplanned kidnapping of his daughter is recounted from the start in epistolary form to Laura, while he is in the correctional facility. As readers, we know how this journey will end from the start.

Yet there is so much to keep us going. Amity Gaige deal with heartfelt and complex issues: what happens when powerful parental love crosses the line? Can anyone truly reinvent himself or does the dissonance produce a fragmented identity?
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Author Amity Gaige does a remarkable job creating a consistent seeming voice for her very unreliable narrator Eric Kennedy/Erik Schroder in her short novel SCHRODER. The book is told by Eric in the form of a letter he writes from jail to his estranged wife Laura attempting to explain the many falsehoods he has told her that were compounded by his kidnapping of their six year old daughter. Eric, his daughter Meadow and his long lost father Otto come remarkably alive in the story while the rest of the characters stay one dimensional as we only see them from the narcissistic view of the narrator.

A problem with the book is a lack of believability. The author asks us to believe that Eric and Laura were married over five years and neither Laura or her very involved parents ever questioned why they never met any of his family (supposed distant relatives of THE Kennedy family)or discovered that his "hometown" on Cape Cod doesn't even exist. Also Eric hid that his native language was German as well as his passport with his original (legal) name. I also found the footnotes Eric uses to explain his "research" do not add the insight the author apparently intended. The descriptions of upstate New York and Vermont are beautiful. And Eric's voice is remarkable. But SCHRODER still just gets three stars from me.
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Format: Hardcover
So disappointing. I only finished it (very painfully), because of all the good reviews. I kept thinking, well maybe it gets better. It doesn't. First of all, I don't think the letter writing premise works at all. His wife would have known a lot of that material (courtship, etc.), and even though he says he writes it also for a "jury", it reeks of bad/cheap exposition. There are a lot of uninteresting side notes about German history that apparently are meant to make it seem more authentic but which only serve to distract.

Another problem is the main character. The way he is drawn, it's not clear what the wife found interesting in him to begin with, or how/why she never had the slightest inclination to check his background especially as she grew more distant and sensed his inauthenticity. The only reason I like to read novels is to gain a better understanding of others. I wanted to empathize, to get why this character had made his choices, had become this person - but I never felt there was enough getting into his emotions. It was more "this happened and that happened, etc."

The real insult to my intelligence came late in the book when I was feeling conned by the reviews anyway. Really? Four pages of "I let you down"? If this was to make it seem more like a real letter, a fake coffee stain would have worked better. Yikes. I guess it's true that books aren't really edited anymore.

I think as a fiction writer, the author should have gone out on a limb, used more imagination and tried to get inside the character's head to make it more interesting. There is a non fiction book - The Man in the Rockefeller Suit - which is much better, an account of what this novel seems to be based on.
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