A narrator with a perfect voice can carry a reader through a novel no matter what story he or she is telling. Amity Gage’s Eric Schroder (he’d very much like you to think of him as Eric Kennedy) is just such a narrator. In “Schroder” (Twelve, 272 pages, $21.99), he tells the tale of his poorly thought out decision to disappear for a few days with his daughter, a 6-year-old caught in the crossfire of a divorce.
Right up front, Eric tells us he is writing this long document to explain his actions to his estranged wife, but also to potentially help himself in court. The device allows Eric to go on about things his wife surely already knows, and the engaging quality of Eric’s narration allows the reader to easily accept what could have felt like a contrived tactic.
Here’s Eric explaining his decision to try to elude his daughter’s grandfather: “That’s when Grandpa reappeared, like a zombie who staggers forward with his head blown off … Did he think I would heed him now, both of us with our gloves off? I was not in violation of the terms of my allotted visitation period. There was nothing in our parental agreement that said I couldn’t drive around the outskirts of Albany at high speeds.”
These self-justifications are a hallmark of Eric’s, but Gaige manages to keep him likable — and pitiable — even as he makes poor choice after poor choice.
Eric peppers his text with footnotes and other information about his area of research: the study of pauses and silences. The odd subject echoes a character’s interest in pauses in rock songs in Jennifer Egan’s novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” In “Schroder,” the focus on pauses emphasizes how fraught even the most banal conversations can be, and how two people might lose one another in that space. This is true even as Eric attempts to explain himself through his unspooling tale.