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lip lit: schroder

Amity Gaige’s Schroder is a lyrical rollercoaster that follows the frenzied highs and ugly lows of a man driven by paternal love. It is a captivating, yet shocking, story of the dangers of miscommunications and untruths that we partake in to find belonging.

Eric Schroder, a first-generation East German immigrant, is a lonely soul. He longs to fit in with the cool kids of 1980s America. Bewitched by the carefree smiles of a summer camp brochure, young Eric invents a new life for himself, and in doing so kick-starts a colourful but ultimately tragic chain of events. He becomes Eric Kennedy, unconfirmed but implied relative of the Kennedys. He creates an idyllic childhood of sugar-like sand at Cape Cod, far removed from the eccentricities of post-war Germany. As Kennedy, he falls in love with the beautiful Laura, and launches a short but lucrative career in the real estate business. They have a child, a daughter called Meadow, and as their relationship deteriorates, Meadow becomes a buoy that saves them from drowning.

Eric in particular clings to Meadow, who is a confidante and partner-in-crime. In the wake of a bitter custody dispute, Eric flees with the child. He grasps for a few more days together as his house of cards comes crashing down around him. The climax of the novel, as the two are ripped apart once more, is truly gut-wrenching. His final, thwarted, message to her is relayed in German (a language he taught her so they could tell secrets in public). ‘I love you and I will always love you. Thank you. Thank you. This was the best part of my life.’ he says. It is a perfect summary of the emotional heart of the novel.

Schroder is written as an extensive account of the time Meadow was away from her mother, motivated by his lawyer, who reflects that ‘it’s the not knowing that’s the worst part, isn’t it? The not knowing that eats at us.’ The narrative weaves between the six days of their journey, East Berlin of the 1970s, Laura and Eric’s romance, and the recent past that Eric and Meadow share. Written in the first person, the novel is a haunting testimony. Eric is blind to the selfishness and mania of his actions, but his love is so convincing that you can’t help but be moved.

The novel is not a comfortable read. Eric’s actions are manic, and one reads with baited breath, waiting for the inevitable tragedy. But the narrative is compelling, and Gaige’s eloquent prose encourages you to devour it. The truth becomes clearer in the final scenes, and these moments make the whole novel worthwhile. The metaphor of last few lines, as Schroder realises the impact of his divorce from reality, is incredibly powerful. The force of his love, and the pain of his deceptions, will linger with the reader long after the final page. It is a book you must give yourself over to, for once the journey begins, you’ll want to follow it to the end.

 

Schroder by Amity Gaige is published by faber and faber.

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