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Schroder: A Novel

Schroder - Amity Gaige After listening to the audio version of the book, I wondered, is it an exposé, Erik’s memoir, an essay on marriage and parental responsibility, a treatise on love with an expiration date, or simply a straight forward confession of willful, deceitful behavior, given only because he was caught? Is the love of a wife or a child so great that logical, rational thought becomes all but impossible when the relationship with them is threatened?
Did Eric want to be discovered, to repent for his life of lies, a life based totally on deceit? Is this why he pushed the envelope, knowing his actions would probably also bring about the discovery of his real identity and his disgrace? Did he risk all because of his devotion to his daughter or because of his memories of a similar event? I could not decide if he was malicious or simply misguided, naïve or cunning, creative or destructive. For sure, his actions put him on a downward spiral of his own making.
When the story begins, we find Eric Kennedy reading a lengthy statement that he has written to his wife in an attempt to explain his behavior and to influence her to forgive him. He finally tells the truth, in the hope that it will alter his future, and mitigate the charges against him and his eventual sentence. Privy to his innermost thoughts and the reasons for his many irrational actions, the reader learns of the trials of his childhood, and begins to comprehend his loneliness and sense of loss when his wife separates from him, thereby removing his daughter from his life on a daily basis, as well. Eric still loves them both, dearly, has difficulty getting beyond the moment and recovering from the loss. He is in denial, ever hopeful that life will return to normal, but what is normal or real for Eric Kennedy?
Eric Kennedy, AKA Erik Schroder, has reinvented himself in order to more perfectly fit in with a teenager’s life in America. At age 5, holding his father’s hand, he crossed the East German border and began a new life. He never saw his mother again. Soon, he moved to America where life was different but never easy, for an outsider. Poor and insecure, bullied by thugs, he grew more and more unhappy. When he learned of a posh boy’s camp in New Hampshire, he yearned for that life; and so, at age 14, Eric ceases to be a German immigrant and becomes a full-fledged American by becoming a character he makes up totally out of his imagination. Applying to become a camper there, using a fictitious name, he is surprised to actually not only get accepted but to also receive a full scholarship. His new persona is confident and from a more fortunate background than his own. He is no longer a foreigner in a foreign land, impoverished and alone, with only his father, a cold, distant, self-protecting man, for company. As Eric Kennedy, he is often mistaken for a relative of the Kennedys of Hyannis, rather than his real identity, which is a non-citizen lost in a sea of loneliness.
Eric keeps up this fraudulent personality, distancing himself from his father and creating a wonderful background, complete with a childhood in a marvelous, affluent community on Cape Cod, very near the Kennedy Compound. He forges documents, attends University and eventually marries and has a child. He is not very ambitious; he is grateful for what he has but doesn’t seem to want much more. As a stay at home parent, his judgment when it comes to child rearing often seems flawed. When cracks begin to form in the relationship between him and his wife, Laura, he is not quick to notice, and when finally, she wants a separation, visitation rights with his daughter take on a life of their own, especially as they are being curtailed, more and more, as time goes by, because Laura continues to find his behavior aberrational and seeks to cut his visitation rights and privileges to protect Meadow, their child. Devastated, Erik/Eric, makes even more foolish decisions than he has in the past, takes greater chances, even though he knows he is heading into the maelstrom; he is soon on the run.
The story feels like it is about the deconstruction of a human being who has constructed himself out of whole cloth to begin with and doesn’t seem to be realistically aware of the dangers facing him if he is found out. After awhile, It seemed as if Eric wasn’t sure where the old Erik began and the new Eric ended. Was his foolish attempt, as a teenager, to recreate his life and create a fantasy, really worth it? It was always fraught with the danger of discovery. It forced him to cut his ties with his father, the only person who loved him in America. How does that effect him? Did it make sense to push the envelope with Meadow, as he did, knowing it would lead to his detection as a fraud? Can he justify his actions and be saved? Can the reader find any redeeming qualities in Eric? Is he misguided or unstable?
He absconds with his daughter when she is only one year older than he was when his father absconded with him, albeit under different circumstances, which he never really wanted to uncover. Is his loss of his country and his mother what propels him to re-enact almost the very same scene with his daughter? Has he been harboring the pain of that loss and the bitterness of that separation all these years? Is it déjà vu that has caused him to snap? Has it poisoned his mind so much that he cannot determine right from wrong any longer and just wants to preserve his relationships regardless of the cost? Will he languish in prison or find some other form of justice to repent? The end of the confession will leave the reader wondering because final judgment has not yet been rendered.