A man’s collapsed marriage and growing madness imperils his young daughter in this bracing third novel by Gaige (The Folded World, 2007, etc.).
Narrator Eric Kennedy makes clear early on that he’s done something very wrong: At the behest of his lawyers, he’s writing his ex-wife to explain why he disappeared with their six-year-old daughter, Meadow, for a week. Like many unreliable narrators before him, he’s bathing in narcissism and has a hard time facing facts, but Gaige makes the discovery process at once harrowing and fascinating. Eric escaped from East Germany with his father as a child and changed his name (from Erik Schroder, hence the title). As an adult, he was a caring husband and father, but his erratic behavior (like keeping a dead fox in the backyard as a kind of science project for Meadow) sunk the marriage, and his limited visitation rights prompted him to effectively kidnap Meadow and take her on an extended tour of upstate New York and New England. Abductors are hard to make sympathetic, but Gaige potently renders the embittered fun-house logic of a man who’s lost his bearings. (“There was nothing in our parental agreement that said I couldn’t drive around the outskirts of Albany at high speeds.”) Gaige is interested in what widens and closes the gaps in our personalities between the past and present, madness and sanity, and she expertly works the theme like an accordion player until the climax, when Meadow is truly endangered, and Eric has a moment of clarity. The concluding plot turns are bluntly deus ex machina, and some characters, such as the aging muse for an ’80s pop hit, hit the split personality theme in an obvious way, but overall the storytelling is remarkably poised.
Smart, comic, unsettling, yet strangely of a piece—not unlike its disarming lead character.