Culture Street

Amity Gaige is the author of O My DarlingThe Folded World and most recently Schroder. Her essays, articles and stories have appeared in various publications including the Yale ReviewThe Literary ReviewLos Angeles Times and O Magazine.  She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family.

Where did you draw inspiration from for your story?

My inspirations for Schroder were many.  I’d say the first inspiration was my own new parenthood.  I’m the mother of a seven-year-old boy, one who is a lot like Meadow, very observant.  I began the book when he was about three.  The transformation into parenthood was a wonderful but rocky one for me.  Like a lot of parents, I was intimidated by my new responsibilities – was I saying or doing the “right thing” for my son?  I think many parents harbor doubts like these.  So Schroder is my parenthood book.  Eric is an exaggeration, in his actions, of the problems and choices facing many parents, especially those co-parenting children after divorce.

Before I started writing Schroder, I’d been at work for three years on another novel.  It was to be my great Latvian-American novel.  My mother is an immigrant from Latvia, and her tale of escape from Stalin’s forces at the end of World War II is an amazing one.  But I couldn’t make that novel work.  I was actually doing research in Latvia when a new plot – Schroder’s plot – inspired me to tell my mother’s immigrant story from a radically different angle.  This one in the voice of a German man – a liar, an imposter.   I fused the themes of immigration and identity with a story of parenthood.  Schroder tries to answer the question “Can a deeply flawed or damaged person be a good parent?”

Erik Kennedy is a devoted father, but deeply flawed character. He is unlovable, yet the reader loves him. Why?

Good question!  I suppose that’s what I wanted.  As I said, I was trying to explore the question of whether or not a flawed person can be a good parent.  Eric’s not a consistent or reliable parent, but he really does love Meadow.  That might be the one genuine instinct he has.  He also loves his ex-wife, though the lies he told her are unconscionable.  Maybe readers feel his good intentions.  He wants so badly to be better than he is.

I tend to think of people as good at heart.  But I also think that life is a mess, full of wrong turns and self-deceptions.  I suppose that writers write their personal philosophy into their books, and mine is written in to Schroder.

Why did you choose to write your story as a letter from Erik to his estranged wife?

I needed to have a listener – an addressee – to “hear” Eric’s confession.  Laura is the right person for the job, since she deserves and explanation of – as per the first line – where Eric and Meadow have been since their “disappearance.”  Though Laura no longer loves Eric, he still loves her, or believes that he does.  And so the novel also has the feel of a strange sort of love letter.

Erik uses a false identity. Why did you decide on a Kennedy?

His choice to become “Eric Kennedy” was extremely ambitious, and a bit foolish.  It ends up drawing much more attention to him than he originally intended.  As he says in his opening pages, Eric created his life story at age fourteen, and therefore it wasn’t a very sophisticated story.

Why do you think readers are so riveted by family drama?

Sometimes I don’t know what other drama there really is.   We all come from families, and most of us create new ones in an attempt to find love and acceptance.  We reveal our “true selves” in intimate relationships, and the stakes are very high.

What is next for you?

I’ve got some ideas on a low boil.  Right now I have a seven-month old baby daughter, and am spending time playing with her.

 

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