Eric Kennedy is not really Eric Kennedy. He was born in East Germany as Erik Schroder. When he dreams up a new persona for himself as a boy newly arrived in the US, the lies eventually grow up around him like weeds, waiting to ensnare him when he's at his most vulnerable. He tells everyone he grew up in America, in a town with a made-up name. He works for years to shed his accent. Eventually, he meets a woman, falls in love, and marries her under his assumed name. They have a daughter, Meadow. Their marriage, like many others today, crumbles under the weight of miscommunication and lack of mutual understanding. All these events take on a momentum that feels inevitable, until finally Eric decides to take his daughter for a road trip instead of returning her to her mother at the end of her weekend visit. This book is Eric's first-person account of that trip, written from prison at the behest of his lawyer.
At under 300 pages, Gaige's book is a quick read, though not a light one. Eric drops hints along the way that his viewpoint is skewed, letting us know we can't trust his stated intentions or his interpretation of events. He seems to love his daughter, but he is also shockingly oblivious to her needs and feelings. He even admits that for the first two years of her life, he wasn't that involved with Meadow, and occasionally would forget he even had a child. Of course, instead of owning the coldness of such feelings, he blames his wife for being too possessive of their daughter. He also avoids taking much responsibility for abducting Meadow, claiming it wasn't premeditated and he just wanted to spend more time with her. Again, Eric feels his wife is at fault, as she was trying to end his visitation rights through the courts.
What's amazing about this book is how Gaige manages to write Eric as, if not a sympathetic character, at least a comprehensible one. She takes us so deeply into his mind that we actually begin to understand his twisted logic. Even as we recognize his actions as irresponsible and hurtful, we see the trajectory his life took that led him there. I always enjoy books that allow me into someone else's psyche in this way; it may be a cliché, but it's revelatory to me to learn what it's like to be someone else in this world. For my money, reading delivers that experience better than just about anything else.
Bottom line: Read this book, and wander around in someone else's mind for a while.