“I love you with my whole soul,” I said. “I wish I could explain it.”
“I know it already.”
“Good.” I smiled. “So you know what a soul is?”
“Sure,” she said, straightening. “The soul keeps the body up.”
Schroder by Amity Gaige
272 pages; Twelve; February 2013
I don’t remember where I was recommended this book. That happens to me a lot. I read a lot of book blogs and reviews and keep up with what people are reading on Goodreads and add things to my list all willy-nilly, and then I’m like, “where did I find out about THIS one?” and often have no idea what the answer is. It’s a busy place, my brain.
Eric Schroder, a young German immigrant, decides that his last name (and his accent) are keeping him from the American dream. He applies to a summer camp and impulsively writes the last name “Kennedy” as his own. When people ask if he’s one of THOSE Kennedys, he neither confirms nor denies…and years pass, and he’s never caught. He goes to college as Eric Kennedy. He marries as Eric Kennedy. His wife, his friends, his coworkers – no one knows that inside Eric Kennedy is really Eric Schroder, and he’s petrified of his secret coming out.
When his wife leaves him for his erratic behavior (and his secret-keeping – she knows he’s not telling her the whole truth, but doesn’t know about what) and doesn’t stick to the visitation schedule so Eric can regularly see his young daughter Meadow, he decides one weekend to take her out of town – and he just doesn’t stop driving.
(And I’ll stop there, otherwise we’re treading into heavy spoiler territory, and what if one of you wants to READ the damn thing?)
There were so many things I loved in this book. First, it was set in Albany. It was a love letter to Albany, actually. Look:
…Albany is a delightful city. With its magnificent state capitol, cribbed from some Parisian design, and its city hall based on that of our sister city, Ypres, Belgium, and the thirty-six marble pillars along the colonnade of the education building, Albany surprises the casual tourist. How, the tourist wonders, in the middle of upstate New York, did he stumble across this European metropolis? He walks out into the wide open of the Empire State Plaza and is awed by the scale, the towering buildings – even the one that resembles an immense egg – doubled in the reflecting pool, which is itself end to end the length of three football fields.
I read this and THRILLED. Yes. That’s exactly what walking into the Empire State Plaza does the first time. That’s why I bring people there when they’re visiting. I like the surprise on their faces when they see how beautiful it is, how grand. It’s the exact surprise I had on my face, the first time I saw it. I still have that surprise, a little, every time I go back. It’s only a small part of why I love living here, but reading it in a book? Yes. I liked that very much.
As Eric and Meadow traveled, they went to some of my haunts. They went upstate. They stopped in Plattsburgh. They took the ferry to Vermont. I loved seeing my area through an author’s eyes (even better when the author seems to love it; Gaige lives in Massachusetts, so not far from here, and I assume has some experience with the area.)
I loved the bond between Eric and Meadow; Gaige writes an excellent six-year-old. She’s not magical or hyper-intelligent; she’s realistic. Sometimes she comes out with things that are surprisingly astute and sometimes she pouts and throws tantrums, as a real child would do.
I loved the history; we got little glimpses of Eric’s life, before he came to the States, in a divided Berlin. And we got some beautiful German, here and there.
“…tell her this, please: Ich liebe Dich und werde Dich immer lieben. And tell her, also: Danke. Danke. Es war meine schönste Zeit. OK? Please. Please tell her that.”
I love you and I will always love you. Thank you. Thank you. This was the best part of my life.
I tried, while reading, to put a finger on what, exactly, was stopping me from falling in love with the book. I think it was this: I couldn’t connect to Eric because he was purposely hard to connect with. He didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing, so he couldn’t share it with the reader. He didn’t really, after all those years, know who HE really even was. Was he Eric Schroder, or Eric Kennedy? He was cold, and he was closed-off, and although I was able to feel pity for his plight, there was never a way into his psyche – and I think it was meant to be that way. He was a mystery – to his wife, to Meadow, and even to himself.
And although that made me not love the book – I liked it very much, but it never took that final step into love – it did make me admire Gaige’s writing. I admire that she made Eric an unlikeable character, because that’s the character he was. It wouldn’t have been true to write him otherwise. I’ll read more of her books because of this; I appreciate the way she sees, and writes, the world.