Schroder, the heartbreaking tale of a man who kidnaps his 6-year-old daughter, could be O My Darling author Amity Gaige’s breakout work. Starring a doggedly compelling lead character and Gaige’s signature smooth prose, this novel wows with its exacting, subtle grace.

Erik Schroder has not been known by that name since he was 14. An East German immigrant bullied in the tenements of 1980s Boston, he reinvented himself as “Eric Kennedy” in high school. But when his marriage falls apart and he loses his custody rights, the lie on which Eric’s life is built may prove his final undoing. Depressed and desperate for more time with his daughter, he proposes a road trip during a scheduled visit, and the unflappable Meadow is game. So begins a weeklong sally into rural New England that reveals the erratic parenting that made Eric’s ex nervous in the first place. But it also displays the special bond between him and the intelligent Meadow. As the authorities close in, Eric, cornered by his fraudulent identity, must face the fact that he could lose his beloved daughter forever—and, in the process, his entire constructed self.

Written as a confession to his wife, Schroder is Eric’s chronicle of his crimes and a poignant ode to his lost love. He utterly adored Laura—their breakup still stumps him—and Gaige’s elucidation of his bewildered pain is cutting. Meanwhile, he is confused by his own errors as a parent. Is he a bad father? What makes a good parent? His flaws, concurrent with his obvious love for Meadow, make us question our own judgments, decisions and delusions. A lost man, Eric Kennedy is falling apart, the ghosts of his past coming to claim him.

Gaige presents this weighty tale with enigmatic grace: This is a sad story, with multiple layers, carried on sentences light as air. She mixes warmth, lovely tenderness and wit with fear and loathing, nakedness and shame, moving her narrative swiftly to an end that hits like a punch in the gut.

Schroder, like its namesake, is an engrossing paradox. And Gaige is a talent who deserves attention.

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