Should Your Book Club Read Schroder by Amity Gaige?

Hmm…well, this is a quick read, and it’s one that book clubs will enjoy.  I will not be choosing it for my Literary Masters book groups, however.    I would recommend taking this novel to the beach or on an airplane, though–it’s a compelling read.  The story is narrated by Schroder, aka Kennedy, who is writing some sort of apologia to his ex-wife (for one) because he kidnapped their daughter.

Here’s what I liked about it: it was, as I said, a quick read, one I didn’t have to exert too much brain power for, and I was in the mood for just that.  Yes, it’s definitely a page-turner.  I wanted to find out how reliable the narrator Schroder/Kennedy is.  I wondered if we had a Humbert Humbert on our hands.  The narrator in this instance admits to his duplicity up front.  Hmm…is he believable?  Is he forgivable

I liked that I really entered the head of Schroder/Kennedy.  I think the author does a good job there.  And I felt his love for his daughter, and hers for him.

Here’s what I would have liked more of: the bit about silences and pauses, and poetic reversals.  I think she could have fleshed this out much, much more and developed a much more literary novel.

I wish I knew more about Schroder’s childhood and relationship with his parents.  Although the author touches on the narrator’s background, she doesn’t give enough information to fully or convincingly explain the psychological reasons for what he is doing. 

I wish I knew more about Schroder/Kennedy’s relationship with his ex-wife.  Again, we get a bit of that, but much more would have illuminated the motives of the narrator/kidnapper and would have gotten this reader, at least, more invested in the story.  We don’t get her perspective at all–or minimally, anyway–so the story feels rather flat.

I think the author has the bones of a great novel here, but I don’t think she layered those bones with enough muscle, sinew, and flesh to make it a literary book.  I feel like when I try to “dig deep,” I hit the skeleton pretty quickly, and that is that–on to the next book.

I do love the name Amity Gaige, though. 

Should Your Book Club Read Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton?

Ahhh…this is a tough one.  I think this is a really important book to read, but I have to say that it is somewhat difficult, perhaps too difficult for some book clubs.  When I say “difficult,” I am not referring to the structure or the plot or the story; I am thinking of  the scenes of torture that are essential to our understanding of what the book is about.

The story takes place in Argentina during the “dirty war”–from about 1976 through 1983–when a military junta, after ousting Isabella Peron, gripped the country in a state of prolonged terror.  Anyone who opposed the regime, anyone suspected of subversion, anyone related to those who opposed the regime–basically tens of thousands of people–were taken, or “disappeared,” in the middle of the night.  No explanation.  The kidnapped were tortured and killed.  Yet the regime denied anything of the sort was going on.

In this novel, Carlos runs a theater group for children, but when people start disappearing, he seems to have a magical ability to imagine what has happened to them.  Worried relatives seek his knowledge and he soon develops a following.  The narrator of the story cannot explain how Carlos does this and is skeptical, swinging from suspended disbelief to cynicism, much like the reader of the novel.  Yet, the narrator (and this reader at least) ends up firmly in the camp of those who believe in Carlos’ imagination–and its power to defeat the terror.

I would love it if your book club would read Imagining Argentina because I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.  It’s a very beautifully written novel (in spite of the scenes of torture) whose message I’m not sure I understood.  It seems like it was saying that we must imagine our way beyond the banal, beyond the evil.  And by doing so we will transcend it.  We can do this through art, through story-telling, through spirituality or other means, but it is very important that we do it.  That we remember and tell what happened.

Let me know if your book club reads it and what everyone thinks.  And if you’re not sure your book club should read it, why don’t you read it first–because every individual should–that’s for sure.