Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag 
by Louise Erdrich
Harper Perennial paperback, 2011
253 pages

Publisher's Summary:

When Irene America discovers that her artist husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, stashed securely in a safe-deposit box. There she records the truth about her life and marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative charade. As Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children, their home becomes a place of increasing violence and secrecy. And Irene drifts into alcoholism, moving ever closer to the ultimate destruction of a relationship filled with shadowy need and strange ironies.

Alternating between Irene's twin journals and an unflinching third-person narrative, Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and the anatomy of one family's struggle for survival and redemption.

In a nutshell:
Shadow Tag is an intense story of deception and the destructive power of love.

My thoughts:
The stories in The Red Convertible introduced me to Louise Erdrich's fabulous writing, but it's taken another two years to finally read one of her novels. I won a copy of her latest (thanks Wendy!) and it arrived, perfectly timed, just before vacation. Shadow Tag was a positively riveting tale of a marriage gone horribly bad. I devoured the novel in just two sittings - a rare occurrence for me.

Along with the beautiful writing, the backdrop of Native American culture makes this much more than just another novel of domestic woe.  Irene America has been the subject of countless paintings produced by her artist husband. Ojibwe teachings provide important implications.
A soul could be captured through a shadow. It was in the Ojibwe language. Waabaamoojichaagwaan - the word for mirror can also refer to shadow and to the soul: your soul is visible and can be seen. Gil had placed his foot on Irene's shadow when he painted her. And though she tried to pull away, it was impossible to tug that skein of darkness from under his heel. (p. 40)
 I also loved that one character had a rescued greyhound.  Erdrich clearly has some understanding of the breed and challenges involved in living with a retired racer. I though I was going to be disappointed by the ending, but an added revelation about the narrative voice was perfect.

There is no doubt I'll be reading more of Louise Erdrich. The Plague of Doves is on my shelf, but I've also heard Love Medicine is excellent. Have you read any of her novels? Which is your favorite?

My rating:

Last word: If you haven't read Louise Erdrich yet, you really should.


  1. I have to admit this is not one of my favorite Erdrich books. I love The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and The Master Butcher's Singing Club--great reads.

  2. Glad you liked this one after all my hyping of this book to you! I've also read The Painted Drum, which I liked ... there should be a review of it in the Book Review Index on my blog, if you're interested. I remember liking it. :)

  3. The Plague of Doves is the only book I have read by this author. I remember liking it, and this one sounds really good!

  4. Interesting idea for a novel. I keep a pretty detailed diary and would honestly be devasted if someone broke my trust and read it.
    The structure sounds a bit like The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing.

  5. I'm glad you liked this one of hers JoAnn. It was just ok for me although it certainly kept me reading. I found some of it maybe just a bit too blunt for my taste, although I'm not sure that's the right word.

  6. I've read The Master Butcher's Singing Club, but I'm ashamed to say I barely remember it.

  7. Amy - Glad to hear others are better... more to discover!

    Melissa - I just went back to reread your review and have added The Painted Drum to my wishlist. Your book review index is great! I need to get organized and put one together.

    reviewsbylola - Glad to know you liked The Plague of Doves. That will probably be my next Erdrich novel.

    Tiny Library - My book club was really intrigued with the premise, too. They selected another title, but I'll bring my copy to the next meeting for someone to borrow.

    Darlene - I know exactly what you mean! This was a little rougher than books I usually read.

    Softdrink -That happens to me all the time. Great title though!

  8. I saw Louise Erkrich on a pbs show about tracing a person's geneology. I was so impressed with her from that interview that I determined to read something she has written. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but will. I just have to figure out which one.

  9. Glad to read how much you liked this one. As for me...I just can't get into her writing. I read about 75 pages in Plague of Doves and then took it back to the library. I loved the way you talked about this one....may have to rethink reading her.

  10. I was really looking forward to this one then I read some less than favorable reviews and kind of put it off. Sounds like I need to get it back on the radar.

  11. My favorite Louise Erdrich is still Love Medicine--but this sounds like something I would really like. Putting it on the list...

  12. What, no more Yates?? LOL

    Seriously, I like Erdrich very much. Although I have not read this one, but Plague of Doves (audio) was excellent. I also liked Painted Drum and the Master Butchers Singing Club.

  13. I'm so glad you were as taken with this book as I was. I spotlighted it for one of my Imprint Friday posts and also gave it a full review because I wanted to bring this title and author to people's attention.

  14. Margot - I'm going to have to google that show now... would love to hear her speak.

    Staci - I don't think Plague of Doves is one of her more popular novels, but we'll see how it goes.

    Lisa - It's definitely worth reading, especially if you're already a fan!

    Bibliophiliac - Love Medicine is the one that's been recommended to me most frequently, too. Hope I can get to it this winter.

    Diane - As much as I love Yates, it is time for a little break. One can only take so much matter how well written ;-)

    Beth F - I remember your posts, they made me even more anxious to read it. I know I'll be reading more of Erdrich!

  15. Some parts of Shadow Tag were better than others, IMO. It was definitely a good piece of literature, and the characters were intriguing. Parts of it bogged down for me.

    But it was definitely worth the read.

  16. I have not yet read anything by Louise Erdrich despite meaning to for too long. I was happy to read your review of this book and know you enjoyed it since I have read some mixed reviews of it and own a copy! I also recently acquired Love Medecine so I may read that first...and soon I hope!

  17. Two sittings! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much JoAnn!

    I think I've already mentioned this but I collect Erdrich books even though I've only read a couple of short stories by her. Why why do I do that? Surely I'm not the only one? I don't have this one but I'm sure if I stumble upon it I'll pick it up. ;)

  18. Laurel-Rain Snow - I thought the characters were very well done, too. Will definitely be reading more of Erdrich.

    Amy - I've heard so many great things about Love Medicine. Will be anxious to see what you think... wonder which one of us will get to it first!

    Trish - I do remember reading about your collection of Erdrich's novels. Will be curious to see which one you choose first.


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