10 March 2011

Review: Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Irene America is a graduate student, wife, mother, and--perhaps most defining--the primary model for her artist husband, Gil. The marriage has always had an undercurrent of distrust and emotional intensity, but when Irene discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, she seizes the opportunity to gain the upper hand.

The red diary becomes Irene's source of power; in it she writes exactly what she knows will pick away at Gil's weaknesses and suspicions. At the same time, she needs to track her truth, and keeps her real story in the blue diary, locked up in a safe deposit box. When the game of manipulation crosses all boundaries, both Gil and Irene fall into darkness.

All the while a third voice fills in the spaces: judging, chronologizing, questioning.

Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag grabs you by the collar and pulls you in close. You are trapped for the duration, but you don't struggle to get away.

In the complicated tapestry of the Americas' family and marriage it is difficult to discern who is victim and who is perpetrator. Irene and Gil, each equipped to devastate the other, seem to act first, think later. They may be evenly matched, but what roles do their children play in this home-front drama?

Here, Irene gives us a hint in her blue notebook:

Why should I tell you where I am going? It is what a person does in a civilized relationship. Ours is not--you have broken the rules. Of course, as soon as I say that, I remember. I have broken other rules and you have broken other rules. We have tried to work out our differences over those violations, or over most of them. The worst things we've done have involved the children. So we have tried to repair our behavior and correct mistakes for them. But this is different. (p. 47)
Shadow Tag catches you off guard but does not toy with your emotions. Irene and Gil are masters of manipulation but they work only on each other, leaving the reader as the guardian of hope. Despite the seemingly inevitable downward spiral of the Americas' marriage, we stick with the family, unsure of the ultimate outcome.

Irene and Gil will live in your head for weeks, making you think about love, jealousy, truth, privacy, relationships, parenting, meanness, depression, alcoholism, independence, and personal boundaries. Book clubs will likely devote quite a bit of time discussing Irene and Gil's children and their reactions to their parents' behavior. Other topics can be found in the Reading Guide.

I talk more about Shadow Tag in a teaser post and an Imprint Friday post that featured this novel.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Shadow Tag at an Indie
Shadow Tag at Powell's
Shadow Tag at Book Depository
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Published by HarperCollins / Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780061536106
YTD: 27
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Julie P. 3/10/11, 6:54 AM  

This one sounds pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Sandy Nawrot 3/10/11, 7:11 AM  

Oh man, does this sound good! Psychological mayhem at its best!

Kaye 3/10/11, 9:00 AM  

Sheesh, why did those two get married in the first place? Wonderful review!

Wendy 3/10/11, 9:58 AM  

Wonderful review - I loved this one (I can't say it was "enjoyable" but man oh man did it suck me in!!!). I put Louise Erdrich right up there with other amazing writings like Kingsolver, Atwood, and Byatt. Can't wait to read more by her.

Wendy 3/10/11, 9:58 AM  

And that should have been "writers" not "writings" - Geez, I need more coffee!

Martha@Hey, I want to read that 3/10/11, 10:48 AM  

Great review, this sounds like one of those books you don't easily forget.Adding it to my wish list.

Zibilee 3/10/11, 1:27 PM  

I think I'd like to put this one forward for my book club's next read. I have been wanting to read it and have read so many great things about it. It does seem like it's a book that gets under your skin and makes you consider and think, which is a really good thing. I loved the eloquence of your review!

Dorte H 3/10/11, 3:17 PM  

I have been waiting for your review of this one. It sounds interesting, but I think they should have put some serious crime in it (it sounds as if the atmosphere would suit a crime story very well).

BookGeek 3/10/11, 4:50 PM  

I've been seeing this in a few places and really want to read it. Seems like a great read!

Sarah Jio 3/11/11, 12:46 AM  

Great review. Sounds like something I'd love to read. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. (Love when characters "live in your head for weeks"!) xo

Darlene 3/11/11, 11:52 AM  

I didnt love this book because their relationship was just so dysfunctional to me but I was totally sucked in. I couldn't put it down.

Athira 3/11/11, 8:01 PM  

I had this borrowed from my library last month but had to return it because I couldn't find time to squeeze it in. I hope to read it sometime soon.

Unknown 3/13/11, 3:48 PM  

This book sounds fascinating, such a good premise. I have been meaning to read a book by Louise Erdrich for a while now. I almost feel ashamed admitting that I haven't read anyhting by her yet. Shadow Tag sounds quite good and may be the one I read!

I enjoyed your review. Thank you!

Jenna 3/13/11, 9:35 PM  

talk about relationship dynamics! sounds like a good read

Tribute Books 3/14/11, 6:41 PM  

I've seen this one around on a couple of blogs - and every time it catches my attention. Thanks for the review. I'll definitely have to add it to my library request list.

Swapna 3/20/11, 10:22 PM  

I can't wait to get this one. I've had it for review since the hardcover release and I'm really kicking myself for not having gotten to it sooner (yet I still haven't picked it up. Too much to read, too little time!)

Jennifer 3/22/11, 9:04 PM  

Every review I read about this book just makes me want to read it more. I absolutely adore Erdrich and this book sounds like another masterpiece of hers. I can't wait to pick this up and read it for myself.

Alice 4/2/11, 12:24 PM  

I like the sound of this one! I haven't read this author but I'd like to now.

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