You’ve looked at the grades at the end of this review, and already you’re annoyed: The novels in question both get B-pluses, and you only have enough time in your life to read one tense but lyrical new book about a dad who basically kidnaps his own daughter and hits the road without a plan, whereupon things quickly get nuts. What can I tell you? Thea Goodman and Amity Gaige are engaged in surprisingly different enterprises, given how similar their central conceits are. For one thing, Goodman’s character heads to Barbados, and Gaige’s only gets as far as a skanky cabin in Vermont.
And now you’ve decided you’re going to read the Barbados one and forget that the other thing exists. Slow down. Goodman’s novel, The Sunshine When She’s Gone, is indeed looser and more comic — it’s more of a romp and not as immaculately constructed — but, weirdly, it’s also more painful to read because the dad’s the kind of flawed but essentially decent guy somebody could easily end up married to. His adventure begins as a lark intended to let his conflicted Manhattan wife truly sleep for once. By the time he and his baby secretly land in Barbados, though, he’s making rash decisions about whether he should share a joint with a local and whether it’s true that Clara can only drink homemade, herb-infused goat-milk formula like her mother says.
The antihero in Gaige’s Schroder is more unnerving and more permanently flawed. He started lying about his name and his German heritage when he was 14 — and once he goes on the lam with feisty 6-year-old Meadow, his estranged wife has no idea where he is or even who he is. Gaige is less interested in the vagaries of married love than she is in the way lies spread through a life like cracks in concrete. Her book is as hard to shake as Goodman’s. So which to read? Your call. These novels are about bad choices, not easy ones. The Sunshine When She’s Gone: B+ Schroder: B+