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Lives built on lies and secrets rarely have happy endings. A new novel by Amity Gaige explores the nature of truth and identity. Her main character comes to the U.S. from East Germany while he was just a boy. He lies about his identity to win a scholarship to a New England summer camp. The lies seem harmless at first, and they help liberate him from his immigrant past and the pain of leaving his mother behind. But one lie leads to another and soon we have a man who is trapped in a fictional identity. When he kidnaps his beloved 6-year-old daughter during a custody fight, his lies lead to tragic consequences. Amity Gaige discusses “Schroder,” a novel about truth, love and obsession.
- Amity Gaige author of the novels "O My Darling" and "The Folded World," and a Fulbright recipient and visiting writer at Amherst College.
Read An Excerpt
From the book “Schroder.” Copyright (c) 2013 by Amity Gaige. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY.
All rights reserved.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is out sick. The novelist Amity Gaige is the mother of two young children. Her new novel grew from her wondering about parenthood. Can a deeply flawed person be a good parent? The novel's protagonist loves his young daughter, Meadow, and feels joy being with her. But he loses his bearings during a nasty custody battle that threatens to keep him from her.
MS. SUSAN PAGEWhen he takes Meadow on an extended road trip without telling his ex-wife, it's hard to know if his paternal love has become an unforgivable obsession. The book is titled "Schroder" and Amity Gaige joins me in the studio. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. AMITY GAIGEThank you so much. It's wonderful to be here.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, you can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. You know, the kernel of this novel came from a news story about a man who said his name was Clark Rockefeller. Tell us about that story.
GAIGESure. I read an article about the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller in 2008 when he was first apprehended and it was a very short article. And the truth is I have not followed that story since. I don't know much about it beyond what I read then, but Clark Rockefeller was a con man, someone who had different identifies and finally claimed, I suppose, that he was a Rockefeller. He was really a German immigrant.
GAIGEAnd he did marry an American woman. They had a child and when he took her for a -- he also took her momentarily or for about a week and parental kidnapping. What I borrowed from that case, from that article that I read, was a quote that he gave when he was apprehended, which was that the time with his daughter had been some of the happiest or most wonderful in his life.
GAIGEAnd I started to wonder did this man who was so flawed and so deceitful even really love his daughter, indeed love her and love the time with her and did she love him. So that's where the whole thing blossomed for me and I ran with it after that and made up the rest in my details, my own scenario.
PAGEYour title character is Eric Schroder. Tell us about him.
GAIGEWell, Eric Schroder, he doesn't call himself Eric Schroder. He calls himself Eric Kennedy. He was born in East Germany. When he was about five, he left East Germany with his father and not his mother and he never really understand the circumstances there, why his mother didn't join them.
GAIGEAnd they leave for the West. They stayed in West Berlin for a while until they could immigrate to the United States and they lived in Boston. And he grows up in Boston. He has a pretty rocky adolescence. He's an awkward person and nobody really likes him. He's got this thick German accent that he keeps trying to shed.
GAIGEAnd then, one day he sees a brochure for a boy's camp in the doctor's office and he sees these American boys and he looks -- they look very happy so he wants to go to this camp and in order to get there, though, he makes up this new identity.
GAIGEHe says that he is a boy called Eric Kennedy. He grabs this name basically out of the air, but of course, it's Boston and Kennedy is an iconic name. It's a, you know, President Kennedy is such a hero. And so he does choose a very ambitious last name for himself. But he goes to the camp and then he proceeds during the summer time through the rest of his youth to be Eric Kennedy.
GAIGEAnd when he goes to college, he fakes some documents and this was, you know, back before technology would make this more difficult now, but he does fake some documents, gets into college as Eric Kennedy and proceeds to remain Eric Kennedy. And he is happier as this person and meets his wife and they have a child as Eric Kennedy.
PAGEHis wife is Laura. Their daughter is Meadow. She's six at the time of this story and I wonder if you would read just from the very beginning of the book. It really -- you're immersed in this story from the first words that you wrote. Read it for us.
GAIGEOf course. "What follows is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance. My lawyer says I should tell the whole story, where we went, what we did, who we met etc. As you know Laura, I am not a reticent person. I'm talkative, you could even say chatty for a man but I haven't spoken a word for days. It's a vow I've taken."
GAIGEMy mouth tastes old and damp like a cave. It turns out I'm not very good at being silent. There are castles of things I want to tell you which might explain the enthusiasm of this document despite what you could call its sad story. My lawyer also says that this document could someday help me in court so it's hard not to think of this as a sort of plea not just for your mercy but also for that of a theoretical jury should we go to trial.
GAIGEAnd in case the word, jury, sounds exciting to you, it did to me for a second. I've since learned that a jury gets all kinds of things wrong, cleaving as it does to initial impressions and in the end rarely offers the ringing exonerations or punishments that we deserve but mostly functions as a bellwether for how the case is going to skew in the papers.
GAIGEIt's hard not to think about them anyway, my potential listeners, lawyers, juries, fairy tale moms, historians but most of all, you, you my whip, my nation, my wife. Dear Laura, if it were just the two of us again, sitting together at the kitchen table, late at night, I would probably just call this document an apology."
PAGEThat's a wonderful, gripping way to start your new novel, "Schroder." You say your mother was also an inspiration for this book. Where did she come from?
GAIGEMy mother was born in Latvia and she also did have to leave that country in World War II, at the end of World War II in 1944 and she was quite young. She was only five I believe when she left and made the difficult journey here to the United States and arrived when she was 11.
GAIGEAnd her experience so obviously young, borrowing from some of her stories of what that felt like to be a young, heavily-accented child who wants to fit in and who wants to be excited about being here, but is actually dealing with, carrying a historical burden as so many people were after the end of that war.
PAGEI'm sure the families of novelists become accustomed to seeing pieces of themselves borrowed and appearing as characters. But what does your mother think about the elements of this book that were clearly, clearly reflecting her own personal story?
GAIGEMy mother has, yes, she has learned to read my, I would say, my literature very generously without trying to read herself into it and I think that's wonderful. Of course novelists really are like crows. I think of them as crows. You see something shiny and you just take it if you need it and there are many people who are quoted and cited in this book in private ways, some conscious and unconscious.
GAIGEAnd for me, my own son, for example is also quoted in the book. And I think my husband as well and I think everyone is used to that.
PAGEHow old is your son who was quoted?
GAIGEMy son is now seven. He was three when I started the book and it was quite influenced by the transformation of myself from an individual who only had to take care of herself to someone who had to take care of somebody else and in my son's case he was quite an observant child and he said some wonderful things.
GAIGEAnd I wanted to live up to him. I found it a very strong feeling to want to be a good parent for him and yet, there's no rulebook to parenting. There's no, you know, map to follow. So I was never entirely sure if I was saying or doing the right thing for him and that fueled some of this book, too.
PAGEYou know, of course, there's no rulebook for parenting. You just get a child and none of us are perfect. We all have flaws. It makes you wonder if your flaws are okay, to what degree you're not a fit parent. I think all of us wonder about that. That's one of the core issues of "Schroder."
GAIGERight, right, exactly. If we had the ideal situation in which to parent then we would all be wonderful parents, I think. But we don't -- we often come with our own historical baggage, our own childhood trauma. We also parent in situations that are difficult, in this case divorce.
GAIGEAnd many other cases, poverty and many other challenges to parenting so it's hard to be that ideal parent. You may try and good for you for trying. Maybe you'll get close.
PAGEAre you trying to be, I always thought I tried to be a good enough parent...
GAIGEA good enough parent...
PAGE...not a perfect parent.
PAGEBut good enough.
GAIGERight, well, one thing that I think Eric does well, though, he makes a ton of horrible mistakes, is he respects his daughter, you know. He respects her mind and he talks about this elsewhere. He says you have a wonderful mind. And she has such a nice way of putting things, a unique way of putting things.
GAIGEHe likes that in her. He takes her. There's a year in which he stays at home with her. He's a stay-at-home dad and he gets to know her quite well in this period of time because he finally has to be responsible to her and be aware of all those details that you need to be aware of when you're taking care of a child.
GAIGEAnd in that time, he takes her to the library and they do research together so he helps her study and learn to read even.
PAGEHe is in some ways an irresponsible parent and he, of course, has built his life on a lie, but in the end, do you think he is a good parent?
GAIGEWell, I don't mean to be coy in saying that I think the book is my answer to that question. I feel ambivalent about him as a person. I alternate between compassion for him and bitterness towards him and each chapter rotates between those two poles. I think that he is. What I can say about him is that I think that his love for his daughter is sincere and real and it's perhaps the one real, sincere thing about him.
GAIGEAnd she loves him. Of course, he's the only dad she has so I think that relationship is genuine.
PAGEWe're talking this hour with Amity Gaige. She's the author of the novels "O My Darling" and "The Folded World" and she's the recipient of the Fulbright. In 2006, she was recognized by the National Book Foundation as one of five outstanding, emerging writers under age 35.
PAGEWe're going to take some questions for her. Our phone lines are open 1-800-433-8850. First, we're taking a short break, stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking this hour with Amity Gaige. She's the author of "Schroder," a novel that's just out. In this novel, Schroder's mother is quite a mysterious figure. We don't know very much about her, neither does Schroder. What does he know?
GAIGEAll he remembers are these details from childhood. He hasn't seen her since he was five. So he remembers sort of the boots she used to wear and the sound of her walking and the feel of her, and he remembers her silence even. But he doesn't know why she did not come with them when they left East Germany. And it's interesting. I'm not sure I know either. My guess is that perhaps she wanted him to have a better life.
GAIGEIt was difficult at that time for so many reasons we know. But to be free. And the husband, Eric's father, very much dreams of leaving. So they I think had to make some sort of hard choice there in which the father -- Eric left with the father so that he could have a better life. But of course, without his mother, can he have a better life?
PAGEAnd they had applied for visas to leave East Germany year after year, then suddenly they had one hour's notice to go.
PAGEIs it possible that he was kidnapped essentially, that like the story years later of him and his own daughter, that his father took him without the mother knowing?
GAIGEIt is possible. And at that time, again, if you cross the wall basically there wasn't any going back. There was no explanation. And they did only have an hour. I think that mystery is what Eric is trying to puzzle out in a deeply unconscious way throughout his whole life. It's such a painful unknowing in his life that it's something that -- it drives him, the fact that he doesn't know this. Ibsen called this a vital lie.
GAIGEIt's sort of a lie that you tell yourself for your own kind of psychic survival. And I think that Eric is so afraid of knowing the answer to this question why didn't my mother come with me, why didn't she care of what happened to me. That he avoids it to such an extreme degree. And towards the end of the book, you see him attempting to talk about it with his father. And it's a central fact of who he is.
GAIGESo much of the book he talks about other things. He's got a very roundabout way of speaking. He's got these research interests that are kind of quirky to say the least. And in some ways, I hope that we see Eric as talking around the truth, talking around something painful. He has to come out to circumvent it and walk around it. And eventually he will be able to face it head-on.
PAGEWe really read the first half of the novel where Eric talks about his project, his research. We don't know what it is. We finally learn what it is and it is he calls it Pauseology, which is a wonderful word, I think possibly not a real word. Tell us what he was researching and perhaps you could read us just a bit from the section halfway through the book where we finally discover what it is that has interested him.
GAIGESure. I mean, he's sort of a hack researcher. You know, he researches but not in any thorough way. He's real autodidact and I really like this type. This person who cares about things who's got a lot of interests. So he's trying to collect, he's trying to collect pauses. Historical notable pauses, where something is not done or something is not happening or not said. Now what he realizes, of course, this is another one of his unrealistic or overly ambitious choices that he makes.
GAIGEBut he realizes that these things are completely undocumented. So it's impossible to collect them. But he -- I can read a little bit from some of his theory about pauses. And, again, when he's talking about these things, he's always talking about himself. So...
GAIGE"I'd like to draw a connection here between dramatic pauses and marital pauses. Both dramatic and marital pauses vary in duration. The shortest or most minor are easily ignorable...but do signal some form of inner struggle. Other beats are longer and more loaded with effortful suppression or confusion, pause. But the longest pauses, silence, are the ones no one should have to bear.
GAIGEAnd speaking personally, I would rather been filleted alive than to stand there with my wife having nothing to say. As in having nothing left to say. I've always been fascinated by and uncomfortable with pauses. My research forced me to see that short pockets of silence were everywhere and that even sounds need silence in order to be sound. There are tiny silences all over this page, between paragraphs, between these very words.
GAIGEStill they can be lonesome. So for all my project's shortcomings, I'd say the worst is that I haven't shaken the lonesome feeling that pauses give me. Sometimes I still wish there weren't any silences at all. And so it is, with some reluctance, that I give you this one."
GAIGEAnd that's the end of the chapter. So the reluctance -- the pause that he gives is to the reader, the white space at the end of the page.
PAGEAnd of course, any radio listener knows that a pause can be powerful. Every interviewer knows that a pause can force an interview subject to feel compelled, to fill the time and space with something perhaps they didn't intend to say. So what does it say about Schroder that this is a subject that so occupies his mind.
GAIGEWell, I think it does say that he -- there is a mystery at the heart of his identity and that it's a something -- it's a nothing that's something. And it dominates the silence, dominates his life, and he's always running away from it. And, again, he's using this rather esoteric example to talk about his own silence. He does ask later on in a footnote -- there are footnotes in the text. And sometimes they're effective footnotes just like pauses and sometimes they're silly.
GAIGEBut he says is it possible that it would just be more appropriate for me to just be silent? Do I say less than a silent person? He is a very talkative, he's a gregarious person. He talks a lot. This is one of his wife's criticisms of him. He talks a lot without saying anything. And he does site Pinter, and I think it was Pinter who the playwright Harold Pinter who said, you know, talking is sometimes a strategy to cover nakedness. And that's a very central part of this book.
GAIGEHe talks a lot, but he still must tell the truth. And he does eventually tell the truth. There's a scene -- it was one of my favorite scenes to write, where he's finally in the bus with his daughter Meadow and they're going back to Boston and he decides to confess his real identity to her and reveal his whole story. And it's funny, it's so difficult for him to confess this to his daughter. And her reaction is, it was sort of surprisingly sweet. For me, I realized it would be consistent with a child to be like, you know, that's okay, daddy, you know, we all pretend.
PAGEWe are going to take calls in just a moment, 1-800-433-8850 is our toll free number. Give us a call. Here's an email from Joshua. He writes: I've only just begun "Schroder," and perhaps as a I read further the meaning will be evident. But I'm curious as to why Ms. Gaige uses Latin for the titles of her chapters. Is it the legal nature of the narrative or is there something more beneath the surface? And Joshua adds, I've really enjoyed this novel so far.
GAIGEThat is so interesting, Joshua. I don't think I noticed how many there were until just paging through the book. I will just say that it's probably a sort of pretention on Eric's part to use some of that Latin. Again, he wants to be like a scholar, but he fails because he really is just decorating, you know, as a strategy to cover nakedness. And so I think he uses the footnotes and the Latin and various other things. There's a little play in here.
GAIGEThere's a little questionnaire. It's a lot of subterfusion, sometimes pretension. And hopefully we see around that, eventually we see around that to maybe a greater truth.
PAGEHere's another email question. I'd be curious as to what fiction Ms. Gaige reads for inspiration. And this person suggests, Nabokov comes to mind. Is that right?
GAIGEYeah. Yes, yes. That's right. And that is -- that's been mentioned critically a couple of times. And this is, in some ways, my struggle with the influence of Nabokov and I really admire and love Nabokov's just writing. Just his prose style in general. And I was rather influenced in this book by the book "Pale Fire," Nabokov. And there too we have a narrator somewhat, you know, a deeply unreliable narrator in that part.
GAIGEHe's explicating a poem and it's also a written document. These are certain things that I borrowed from that book for this book. But it's mostly, you know, when I'm reading, I really -- when I'm writing I wanna read a writer who writes so beautifully so well, so brilliantly that I want to be a better writer. It inspires a sort of competitiveness, a healthy one, even when I fall short that I want to even just write a single sentence like that, like someone like Nabokov.
PAGEThis is your third novel. How is it different from the first two?
GAIGEYou know, it's very different. It's, first of all, it's in first person and I never thought I would write in first person, let alone as a German man. I mean, I just -- it's almost amusing that this was my first first-person novel. But I have really enjoyed writing in the first person. It gave a permission to just adopt a voice, adopt a persona, speaking of personas. The writer is always impersonating.
GAIGEAnd I got to do that with him. I found that his voice came to me quite readily. And once I heard his voice, then I started to understand all of his circumstances. And as writers sometimes say, they feel like the voice was channeled or heard. And I felt that way with Eric. So I wrote the book rather quickly because I felt like he was just, you know, gonna quit telling it almost to me.
PAGEWhen you say you wrote it quickly, how long did it take you to write the book?
GAIGEI was looking back. I think it was only about a year, a year and a half. And I wrote it and kind of held it until I was done and gave it to my readers. And I have several close friends who are readers plus, you know, my editor and my agent. And so I got to give them a completed draft and get their feedback.
PAGETo a newspaper writer writing it for more than a year sounds like a very long time. For novelists, it seems like a short one.
GAIGEIt's really not very long.
PAGEIt is a darker novel than your first two.
GAIGEWell, it is, in a way. Of course there is divorce as the subject. My first two novels were about married couples dealing with adversity and challenge, the challenge to their love. And they survived those challenges. And in this novel, they don't. And it sort of happened. It starts after the marriage is over. It starts at the beginning of the divorce. And we don't really, we only find out about the marriage through little bits that Eric gives us in the service of telling other stories.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls at 1-800-433-8850. We're going to take a call in just a moment. But first, tell us how Eric's road trip with his daughter Meadow turned into kidnapping? Did he intend it to be a kidnapping? What was in his mind when it began?
GAIGENo, he didn't. But he is always willing to admit that there is the unconscious at work in what he does. So when he takes Meadow, he is really depressed and disheveled and is living in a rented ranch house, you know, no longer in their shared home with which he was parenting her earlier, in which he was parenting her earlier. So he's friendless, basically. He's not in touch with his own father who does not know his Kennedy identity.
GAIGESo he is quite desperate. What makes him most desperate is that he's losing more and more rights of visitation. And he knows that he can't really go to trial. He can't do much about it legally because of his fraudulent identity which would be found out. So he's really in a bind. And yet, being with her makes him feel better, as being with children often does. Their wonder and their love, their unconditional, you know, their love and admiration, let's say, for you.
GAIGESo he wants to be around that. So he -- when it's a, you know, legitimate visitation and he says to her, well, let's get in the car and they start to drive and then they just keep driving. And they go to Lake George as they stay -- they're in Albany. They go north, then they end up traveling all around New England and things get progressively more desperate.
PAGEDid Meadow have a sense that something might be awry with this trip?
GAIGENot initially. And he does lie to her or admit -- omit some truth. She says in the beginning, let's call mommy and just make sure it's okay with her. And then Eric, you know, conveniently never does this, right? So Meadow's responsible to mommy too. Meadow starts to, into it, things aren't well as Eric gets more desperate because children really do read their parents' moods.
GAIGEAnd she starts to suspect that this adventure isn't so good for her. And we see her under increasing stress. And I think part of the judgment that I render on "Schroder" is when we see the consequences of this trip on Meadow. You know, she doesn't have, for example, you know, another outfit with her. And she's, you know, dirty and she's got her little sand pales she's picked up and a pet frog and various things. It's not appropriate. It's difficult for her.
PAGEIt's not appropriate. It's difficult for her. And yet, the book you portray Eric pretty sympathetically in this novel. Do the other characters in the novel also view him pretty sympathetically?
GAIGEWell, he has run-ins with a couple of random figures but he meets a woman, April, who is temporary friends on the road and they kind of -- she becomes this new mother figure for a brief period of time of Meadow. And April is also a very suspicious character. I think that other than that, I try to give the reflection of how the reader might see "Schroder" through some of the consequences of his actions, both upon Laura, his ex-wife, and upon Meadow, and even this other woman April, the women in his life basically.
GAIGEAnd I do represent them -- we don't get into their points of view. But we do see what they think and say about him, and the consequences of his actions upon them.
PAGEWe had a caller Gary who had asked why -- he wanted to know why they got divorced, Schroder and Laura. Why did they get divorced?
GAIGEThat's a good question because Laura doesn't know that he's a fraud until this document comes into her hands if it ever does. Because the book is a document, it's his confession. It's his letter written from jail. You know, so why did they get divorced? I think that Laura knows that there is something off about Eric. He can maintain his elaborate fraud up to a point. You know, he's fun. Their marriage is quite successful for several years.
GAIGEAnd then he starts to be sort of erratic. And it seems that there's a part of him that she can't reach. She says, there's just something missing between us, I can't tell is it me, is it you. And he says, you know, it's not me, I'm just Eric Kennedy. You know, no big mystery. You know, so we see that that's not the case.
PAGEQuite the untruth. Amity Gaige, she's written a new novel, "Schroder." We're going to take a short break. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're talking to novelist, Amity Gaige, about her new book, "Schroder." Let's go to the phones, 1-800-433-8850. We'll talk to George, he's calling us from Ogden, Utah. George, hi.
GEORGEHi, how are you today, ladies? Having a good day, I hope.
GEORGEI have a question about writing a novel from the voice of the opposite sex. I was almost commissioned to write a book about banking a few years ago. And I couldn't figure out any way to do it except as a novel. But I figured maybe if I do it as the voice of the opposite sex it would be more compelling and people would actually have a tendency to think about it and read it maybe.
PAGEWell, George, interesting question. So tell us about writing in the voice of a man.
GAIGEWell, it's -- I was surprised that I tried it, too. I think that when you try to write in the -- about the opposite sex or in that voice it can sometimes help you because you are inventing and you are using your imagination. It gives you more permission to do that. And it creates a little distance between who you really are and your characters. And for me, as a writer, that's helpful.
GAIGEI'll also say that, of course, my character -- he's not a typical guy, whatever that is, but he does have his own, you know, prose style. And he's got his own quirky way of speaking. So his voice is unique and not necessarily gendered specifically all the time. I mean I hope he's convincing as a man. Some men in my life have said, yes, he is, but I will leave that to each reader to determine.
PAGEGeorge, does that answer your question?
GEORGEIt helps a little, yeah, I think so.
PAGEOK, great. Thanks so much for giving us a call. Here's a Tweet from Marshall. He writes, "What characteristics of your main character are based on you?"
GAIGEWhat characteristics of the main character are based on me? Well, I suppose that -- I suppose that I -- really that I'm a parent. And I would, though I swear a very -- you know, responsible parent with no criminal record I can relate to Eric in lots of ways and that, sort of, painful love that he feels for his child.
GAIGEYou love your child so much and that, sort of, hurts, too. You know, a, they're going to grow up eventually. You also know that they're going to face their own trials and suffering. And so there's a mix of feelings, a mix of parental emotions. I've found that very rich. Before I had children I thought they would, you know, take away from my writing life. They certainly take away my write -- some of my writing time.
GAIGEBut what I've found is that it's really opened me up as a writer and all of the -- some of the contradictions and contradictory feelings and the love. So I would definitely say that I see myself in the same continuum as Eric as a parent and, fortunately, I'm not faced with some of the desperate situations and I didn't make, you know, the bad choices that he's made.
PAGEYour own parents' relationship changed around the time you began writing this novel. Did that affect -- is that reflected in this book, do you think?
GAIGEYes, it is. It was a very heady time in my life. Soon after my son was born my parents separated after many, many years of marriage. And it was -- even though I was a grown person I still felt very much like a child, you know, like a child of the -- and they didn't divorce, but a child of divorce. And I guess I -- at the same time I was mourning that because I think every child, you know, wants their parents to stay together, even when that doesn't make sense, you know.
GAIGEI was mourning that at the same time I was bringing this beautiful new child into the world. And certainly it informed the book. You can see all of these personal influences in the book. I also lost my father a couple years after that. So it's also a father daughter story. The book is dedicated to my father. So, yeah, you can see all of the complicated emotions that -- they get played -- and this is the wonderful thing about being a writer. I got to give form to some of those stories in a narrative that really has so little to do with me and that felt good. It felt healing.
PAGELet's talk to Jim. He's calling us from Louisville, Ky. Jim, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JIMYes, I'm very curious if your guest has read a book called, "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit," which, perhaps, is a longer version of the article that she had read initially.
GAIGEI have not read that book. I've purposefully not read anything more about that case most because -- well, and then that book came out after I was done with this book already.
GAIGEHonestly, when I read that article I really didn't know it would end up being such a story that would turn into movies and books. I guess I'm not surprised because it's a very interesting story, but I purposefully didn't read about it because I didn't want to novelize that story.
GAIGEAnd if I had read it then I would have accidentally or unconsciously started to do that.
GAIGEDoes that make sense?
JIMWell, I haven't read your novel, but I can see how that would be a real danger. It's a fascinating story how this young man assumed numerous identities, but finally settled on claiming that he was a Rockefeller and married his wife under those pretenses.
GAIGEYeah. Well, I suppose it would now be safe to read it.
JIMI recommend it.
GAIGEMaybe I will. Thank you.
PAGEJim, thank you so much for your call.
PAGELet's go to Little Eagle calling us from Elkhart, Indiana. Welcome to the show.
LITTLE EAGLEYeah, very interesting, you know. And I think I've got the reverse of what's going on. I write a lot of poems, you know, and I write a woman's point of view and the woman's voice. And so also being left handed helps sometimes. I'm left handed and I can -- funny enough my biology -- anatomy -- gives me a different perspective on things. It's a strange feeling.
PAGEAnd do you feel it's ever difficult to write in a woman's voice?
EAGLENo, in fact, it comes incredibly easily, you know. And I'm a hands-on guy. I'm a truck driver, you know. I do rough stuff, but -- and yet I can see the sense -- the sentient being of the woman inside me very, very clearly.
GAIGEYeah. I really relate to that. I really relate to that. It somehow does give you more permission if you're in a different body to imagine. And...
EAGLEAnd you've got to have courage.
EAGLEYou've got to have courage to do that.
GAIGEUm-hum, um-hum. And I suppose, you know, finally, I would say, there's more that makes us similar as men and women than keeps us apart. There are human emotions that we all feel and I even feel this way...
GAIGE...around parenting even. I feel like, you know, fathers, especially modern fathers, too, really care deeply about parenting, about fatherhood, about being there for their children. So, yes, I think that's wonderful that you do that.
EAGLEAnd don't feel afraid to cry.
EAGLEMen -- men don't feel afraid to cry. It's good for you.
PAGELittle Eagle thank you so much for calling us on "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Penny. She's calling us from Cleveland, Ohio. Penny, you're on the air.
PENNYHi, you said that you show the work, the draft, to your readers and your editor. And I'm just wondering how much influence they have on it, what, you know, what -- from the feedback.
GAIGESure. Yeah, I --my first reader is my husband, which is really convenient. And his response is always -- tells me, kind of, so much about whether or not I actually got the book on the page that I wanted to get on the page, you know.
GAIGEAnd then I do have several close friends who are readers and writers and they definitely, within a supportive context, have given me much feedback. For example, I gave the book to two different readers and they said the same thing about the end, not the end that I have, but they had problems with the end as it was. And I listened to that and changed it and I'm very happy with the end. And I could not have done that without them. And my editor has --he got the draft -- so he got the draft after that had happened.
GAIGEBut he -- because he, sort of, had to, you know, buy it first and become my editor. And at that point he -- we -- he and I had long conversations about -- in which he would just, sort of, ask me why did you do this. And if I had a legitimate explanation that was OK with him, you know. And if I didn't then I tasked myself with either changing it or coming up with an explanation.
PENNYOkay, well, thank you very much.
GAIGENo problem, thank you.
PAGEPenny, thanks for giving us a call. Well, let's talk about the ending of the book. And it's really -- it's really about Eric trying to, kind of, flee his family history -- his difficult family history. It goes back to the fundamental point of the creation of -- trying to create a new identity. Does he succeed in escaping his past?
GAIGEUm-hum, well, no, I would say because it's his downfall. I guess one large question the book asks is, yeah, can you run from not just your past, but from your pain. It's really can you run from your pain and, no. He creates a different identity in which he is more heroic and happier and better liked and accepted. And all that is really wonderful, but it's still a construction and underneath this pain remains and he carries it like a seed, you know, around -- throughout his life. And I think the book does suggest, at least in its narrative, that because it, kind of, falls apart that he does not outrun that and you can't really get away from yourself, you know.
PAGEPerhaps none of us can.
GAIGEI think none of us can, though I completely sympathize with the desire to try.
PAGEDavid is calling us from Terra Haute, Ind. David, hi.
DAVIDHi, there, thanks for taking my call.
DAVIDJust sort of had one brief question and I hope none of this has been asked already. Parts of your story made me thing of both "Lolita" and the idea of a father taking his daughter on a journey and also "The Great Gatsby," the idea of, sort of, an outsider American seeking reinvention -- personal reinvention.
DAVIDAnd I wonder if or how either of those two stories played into your thinking as you were contemplating what to write in your own book.
GAIGERight, well, thank you. I haven't read "The Great Gatsby" in a while, but I do -- I can definitely see what you're saying there. I think that the "Lolita" comparison is both flattering in some ways and troubling in others because, of course, Humbert is just a monster and...
DAVIDYes, of course.
GAIGEAnd, yes, please. And so I -- you know, there was a piece of criticism recently that said my book was definitely in conversation with that -- with "Lolita," but that I was both honoring and rejecting Humbert Humbert as a type. And I think that's true. My book is showing -- I mean, I'm still a woman and it's showing -- I mean, for example in "Lolita" you never get Lolita's point of view. You never get well, the consequences of what Humbert does, you know, on her. And here, first of all, you know, Eric is in no way behaving like Humbert Humbert. And he is a loving father, but also he -- we do see, I think, through "Schroder" more of the damage that somebody like this does.
PAGEDavid, thank you for your call. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. What does Schroder really know about the relationship between his parents? Does he understand it? Does he have a sense of it?
GAIGEI don't think he does. He does have these memories. They're very spotty. I suppose I borrow this from my life, too. I remember so little about my own childhood, just tiny little details, you know, looking out from -- I can remember looking out from, like, the bars of my crib and other little things. He remembers these details. And he also remembers the silence between them and it is suggested that their marriage was under strain, as it would be, frankly, you know, in East Berlin at the time. So I think that he has -- it would have been best if he could have heard more about the truth of what the relationship was like. It would have been good if he and his father had had some honest talks with one another.
PAGEHere's an email from Denise. She asks, "Wouldn't a great follow up to this book be the story of Schroder's mother?
GAIGESchroder's mother, Well, thank you for the suggestion. I think -- you know, Eric is still with me. You know, he's still -- sometimes he just seems real, like a real person to me. And I continue to think about him. I think about -- sure, I think about what would happen if he actually went to Germany. And I also think about what his relationship with Meadow would be like in the future. That's very interesting to me. I do -- I do have a baby daughter now and I am interested in what as Meadow, you know, grows into a woman the consequences of all this upon her.
PAGEI'm not sure if Denise meant that as a serious question, but is it possible that you would write another novel that takes these characters to their next place?
GAIGEYes, that's possible, yeah. I would -- I would love that. I think right now I'm certainly excited about representing this book to the public and being with my, you know, daughter and teaching. And all of it is deep inside hopefully waiting to come out.
PAGELet's go to Phoenix and talk to Logan. Logan, thank you for calling us.
LOGANHello, good morning, women.
LOGANLadies, I'm sorry. Hello. I wanted to ask real quick. I know there's not much time. How much more preparation did you have to take writing from a first person point of view in getting your book through versus your previous experience?
GAIGEYeah, writing in the first person is so unique because you only get this one perspective. You're not allowed, as I did with my other novels, to go into the mind of anybody. Gosh, in that novel I think I go into the mind of, like, a dog and stuff. Here it's just -- it's just Eric. And because he's -- he's not -- because he is -- he's unreliable in the sense of -- my theory is that we all are really, that we're all slightly unknown to ourselves. And, also, it's just difficult for any of us to tell a story. So the first person here was very much wrapped up in how will he tell the story? When will he reveal certain things? What will he hide altogether and suppress totally? It was fun for me to have those -- that challenge -- those limitations.
PAGELogan, thank you for your call. Here's a final caller, Tom, who says, "Have you considered that we all reinvent ourselves? How is Schroder different?"
GAIGEYes, I have considered that. And I have considered that we all reinvent ourselves in America, (word?) country, though it doesn't feel like it necessarily, it's so young. It's so new. Perfect place to come and do that even if you move from one town to another, gees, you know, you start over. And a lot of us don't have any roots here, familial roots at all. So I think it's a -- America is the perfect place to, certainly, American novels, to discuss identity and re-self invention, yes.
PAGEAmity Gauge, thanks so much for being with us this hour to talk about your new novel, "Schroder."
GAIGEThank you so much, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Aaron Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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