Faber. 2013. 272 pp.
ISBN 978 0 571 9671.
What follows is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance.
So begins the opening statement of Schroder, and it is prefaced by the e.e.cummings poem "here is the deepest secret nobody knows." This sounds tantalizing, especially when you know from the cover blurb that Meadow is the narrator's six-year-old daughter, and that he has abducted her. As far as he is concerned, this is not a premeditated abduction, not really, he just decided on a "spontaneous trip," and failed to return Meadow to his estranged wife after a parental visit. Now that the law has caught up with him, he has been persuaded to write down everything that happened.
Yet, the first thing he tells us is how, as a child, he lied about his own life in order to win a major competition, and in the process, he gave himself a false identity that he then chose to keep. By his own account, Eric Schroder, alias Kennedy, is a liar and a fraud, a man who neglects his elderly father, has forged qualifications for his c.v., has deceived his wife and her family for years, and now, has run off with his child. He is also researching "pauses," and he adds footnotes to his document in order, one assumes, to impress us with his essential seriousness and intelligence.
With his glib account of his failings, his protestations of love for his estranged wife, and his hints of childhood trauma documented in interspersed fragments describing a childhood escape, with his father, from Communist East Germany, Eric Kennedy comes across as a self-serving sociopath. Whether this is what the author, Amity Gaige, intended, I don't know, but I quickly began to lose patience with her narrator.
So why did I go on reading? I don't know. But that's what sociopaths do—they draw you in, tell you just enough to make their actions sound plausible and justified, and play on your emotions to keep you hooked.
Yes, by the time I got to the end of Eric's story, I did feel sorry for the things that happened to him in his childhood. I did think that maybe they might explain why he had chosen a different identity and had made up a different childhood for himself. And I did understand how he came to live a lie. I also understood how he loved Meadow and how he justified his own actions once he and Meadow were evading the law.. But I couldn't forgive him for never phoning Meadow's mother—the wife he said he loved so much—to let her know that their child was safe and well. And I couldn't forgive his self-indulgence or his casual parenting, which ultimately put Meadow's life in danger. Given his lifelong skill at weaving stories and convincing people of his honesty, I wouldn't trust this narrative to be completely true, either. And I certainly would never advise his wife to take him back.
In Schroder, Amity Gaige has created a character who is so persuasive and convincing that you begin to believe in him, although you know you shouldn't. Bit in the end, it is her skill at evoking tender emotions, the complexity of family relationships, the joys and the worries of parenthood, and the thrill and danger of unexpected adventures, that make his narrative compelling.
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