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Kathryn Schulz on Amity Gaige’s Novel Schroder


We need a name for them, that subset of literary protagonists who are appealing despite being appalling. I do not mean the mere anti-hero. In literature as in life, anti-heroes outnumber outright scoundrels ten thousand to one—especially these days, when our shelves sag under the weight of intentionally apathetic main characters. Life is full of banal disappointments, and these guys (for they are almost always guys) suffer them, zhlubbily. Separated, divorced, overweight, underemployed, aimless, faithless, wifeless, they are epic poets of pathetic heterosexuality, contemporary literature’s counterpart to the more dejected corners of country music. I like some of these characters, unprepossessing though they are, but to my mind, the best protagonists often do the worst things. Indeed, the more felonious, the better.

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There is, lurking behind Kennedy, another felon-narrator, perhaps the most famous one in all of literature: Humbert Humbert, the odious, marvelous lech ofLolita. Nabokov’s shadow on the page is as recognizable as Hitchcock’s on the screen, and it shows up all over Schroder. The precocious Meadow tells a stranger that she wants to be a lepidopterist (as Nabokov was); a repentant Kennedy covers four solid pages with the words “I let you down.” (Humbert Humbert: “Repeat till the page is full, printer.”)

 [ … ] 

That ambiguity is what differentiates Schroder from Lolita. Humbert Humbert is a Bad Man Who Did Things; Kennedy is a man who did bad things. As roguish protagonists go, he loses something in the bargain. He isn’t extravagant like Humbert or ideological like Raskolnikov or mythic like King Lear. But he gains, too: among other things, our sympathy.
Schroder by Amity Gaige; Twelve; 272 pages; $21.99.
*This article originally appeared in the February 18, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

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