‘Schroder’ is a brilliantly written story about a father, Erik Schroder, who unwittingly kidnaps his six year old daughter, Meadow, in the midst of a custody fight, and winds up in a correctional facility. The book is written as a document to his estranged wife, Laura, and as an attempt to explain the rationality behind his bizarre behaviour. ‘Schroder’ invokes contemplation over familial ties, identity and what it means to belong to someone and somewhere.
We learn in the beginning that Schroder is not who he says he is. Aged fourteen he created a new identity for himself which broke away from his East German roots, and took on a mythical American personification with “distant” ties to the famous Kennedy clan. Eric Kennedy engulfs Schroder entirely throughout his adolescent life and it is only with the unravelling of his marriage and the kidnapping of his daughter that he starts to disintegrate back into his original identity.
Amity Gaige has an excellent way with words which made the story captivating from the onset. Schroder sets out his document to his estranged wife detailing the story of his unplanned kidnap of their daughter with the sentence; “there are castles of things I want to tell you”. The book is further enhanced through pauses. Schroder’s research is based upon the collection of pauses in history, politics and culture. Unsurprisingly, this research is never completed and this is perhaps because he realises that not all pauses are easily accounted for. For example, the pregnant pauses that slowly dominate his marriage until its end.
Gaige explores fascinating concepts in this novel. Parenting is quite obviously the most important one and there are times when the parenting techniques adopted by Schroder border on the bizarre. This includes the harbouring of a dead fox in the back garden to teach three year old Meadow how decomposition works. Unsurprisingly, this does not go down well with Laura who thinks of this as the last straw in terms of the marriage turning into two separate spheres.
Parental love, as we are all aware, is a powerful, indescribable emotion and while I do not have any children of my own as of yet; I could imagine myself becoming just as erratic as Schroder in his quest to maintain a close tie to his only daughter. Schroder’s kidnapping is not malicious and he is not in any way a villain in this novel but rather a victim of his own complicity and the judicial system. When parental rights and love are threatened the extreme happens. Gaige criticises the modern phenomenon of the broken home and children being pulled through the divorce courts as nothing more than a prize to be won. The stark realities of modern twenty first century America following the recession are laid to bare here with such magnificence and starkness that one almost wishes that this world was purely fictional.
In this book, the ordinary is juxtaposed with the bizarre and I think that is what is most gripping and what propels you forward. The childlike wonder and innocence of Meadow is contrasted to the erratic and strange behaviour of Schroder. There are times when Schroder has disagreements with Meadow that mimic the arguments that led to the end of his marriage and where his treatment of Meadow and parental responsibilities are questionable. This is most apparent when he attempts to hide Meadow in the trunk of the stolen Mini Cooper and steal her across the Canadian border.
‘Schroder’ is, quite simply, a wonderful book that will have you laughing, grimacing, questioning and crying whilst being taken away on a love-induced search for belonging and acceptance in a harsh world.