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Art people: Amity Gaige / writer

  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • "Schroder" is the third novel by Amity Gaige, the current Visiting Writer at Amherst College.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

Amity Gaige was once asked what kind of music she listens to when she’s writing.

“I said, you’ve got to be kidding,” she recalled with a laugh. “The sound of the wind bothers me when I’m writing.”

When Gaige was working on “Schroder,” her highly praised third novel, she sought solitude on the third floor of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College, where she teaches writing. For a time, she holed up in a cabin by a lake in Vermont.

Gaige found enough quiet to produce a book that tells the story of Eric Kennedy, a father in the throes of divorce. Desperate to spend more time with his 6-year-old daughter, Meadow, he takes off with her in a stolen car for what turns into a disastrous road trip.

Eric Kennedy, we learn, is actually an East German immigrant whose real name is Erik Schroder. Though the story line of an immigrant with a false identity borrows from the real-life saga of the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller and abducted his daughter, Gaige’s book isn’t a ripped-from-the-headlines potboiler.

As a mother — Gaige and her husband, Timothy Watt, have two young children — Gaige knew that she wanted to write a book that would, in part, delve into intense parent-child bonds. And, as the daughter of parents who separated late in life, she also knew that loss and the erosion of love were in the mix.

“I really believe a novel has to be animated by your personal experiences and your passions,” she said.

Gaige initially set out to frame a book around her mother’s immigrant experience as a native of Latvia. But that effort foundered, she said, and she realized no amount of struggle would make it right: “It probably means you’re not writing the book your heart really wants you to write.”

When she read a news story about Clark Rockefeller in which he called time with his daughter the best part of his life, Gaige wondered: Could such a flawed man be a loving parent? The question, spawning others, helped define the book that “Schroder” became.

“I realize it’s somewhat of a harrowing book, but writing ‘Schroder’ was such an enjoyable experience,” she said. “I liked spending time with him, I liked the way he spoke. I liked uncovering his past and his history. I liked telling a father-daughter story.”

In 2006, Gaige was named one of the “5 Under 35” writers to watch by the National Book Foundation. Today, at 40, her latest work has been called, by Janet Maslin of The New York Times, “a book that works as both character study and morality play, filled with questions that have no easy answers.”

When she finished writing, Gaige said there came that moment “when you sit with it, when it’s just you and the book, and you ask yourself, did you write the book that you wanted to write?”
Her answer was yes.

— Suzanne Wilson

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