“Schroder” by Amity Gaige – A New England Road Trip

“Schroder” by Amity Gaige  (2013)  – 269 pages

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If you want to write an emotionally gripping novel, keep the story as simple-minded and one-dimensional as possible.  Never veer far from your main plot, and never give your reader a reason for his or her mind to wander from the basics of your story.  If you can do that, you are well on your way to a best seller.

That is why so few novels from literary authors become best sellers, unless they win the Booker Prize.  Literary authors realize that our lives are multi-faceted and complicated and inconclusive.  To introduce complexity and inconsistency into your characters might make your story more intellectually satisfying and meaningful, but it will usually limit your novel’s sales potential.

I could well imagine the main plot of “Schroder” being ground down into a best-seller.  A soon-to-be-divorced father drives away with his six-year-old daughter thus violating the agreed upon visitation rules.   A fair number of lesser authors than Amity Gaige could turn this story into a fast-moving twenty-first century morality play / police procedural, and the royalty checks would roll in.

However Amity Gaige is not that kind of writer.  She gives this story added complexity by introducing another subplot which is quite removed from the unapproved road trip, the story of an East German boy transplanted to Massachusetts who later becomes the father in the story. He decides at the age of 14 that he would fare better in this world as a Kennedy, a shoestring relative of the clan.   Gaige tells the story of this boy turned father driving away with his daughter from the father’s point of view, and this father is an empathetic if not sympathetic figure.  If Gaige had followed the rules for best sellers, she would have made this father an evil villain for whom the whole world would stand up and cheer when he finally got caught.

I suppose the secret for a literary novel to succeed is for it to combine the visceral appeal of a best seller as well as those satisfactions which would take it beyond the run-of-the mill best seller.  What are these satisfactions?  Distinctive language is one. Unique insight into a particular life situation would be another.  A third might be some perspective on how the story fits into the historical or current time.

Although “Schroder” held my interest throughout, it did not quite succeed for me on either visceral appeal or intellectual satisfaction.  For me, “Room” by Emma Donoghue is the gold standard in novels which have a young child as a main character.  The six year old girl, Meadow, in “Schroder” did not come across quite as vividly as the five year old boy, Jack, did in “Room”.  Also the two plot lines in Schroder, the German father with a self-changed identity and the unauthorized auto trip with his daughter, were an uneasy fit and did not reinforce each other into an entirely satisfying whole.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I like your explanation of what makes a literary novel, always a tricky concept to define!

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, Facebook always reminds me that there’s a huge gap between what the world likes and what I like. I guess that is what Facebook is there for.

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      • The ABC had a hilarious little article the other day about a thingummy that could analyse your personality based on your FB ‘Likes’. (I can’t find the link or I’d share it). I turned out to be a rather strange combination of traits, because I didn’t ‘like’ enough things to make it work. This is because I know that FB tailors its ads to match the things you like, and I reckon the less FB knows about me, the better.

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        • Hi Lisa,
          It is a major occupation nowadays, people having to hide themselves from Facebook, Google, etc. I guess that is why people are choosing to live offline. So far I’m pleased that WordPress hasn’t gotten into the profitable privacy invasion business

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