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Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Shadow Tag: A Novel

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Shadow Tag: A Novel Description:

“Here is the most telling fact: you wish to possess me.

Here is another fact: I loved you and let you think you could.”

When Irene America discovers that her 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 her marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative farce. Alternating between these two records, complemented by unflinching third-person narration, Shadow Tag is an eerily gripping read.

When the novel opens, Irene is resuming work on her doctoral thesis about George Catlin, the nineteenth-century painter whose Native American subjects often regarded his portraits with suspicious wonder. Gil, who gained notoriety as an artist through his emotionally revealing portraits of his wife—work that is adoring, sensual, and humiliating, even shocking—realizes that his fear of losing Irene may force him to create the defining work of his career.

Meanwhile, Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children: fourteen-year-old genius Florian, who escapes his family’s unraveling with joints and a stolen bottle of wine; Riel, their only daughter, an eleven-year-old feverishly planning to preserve her family, no matter what disaster strikes; and sweet kindergartener Stoney, who was born, his parents come to realize, at the beginning of the end.

As her home increasingly becomes a place of violence and secrets, and she drifts into alcoholism, Irene moves to end her marriage. But her attachment to Gil is filled with shadowy need and delicious ironies. In brilliantly controlled prose, Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and one family’s struggle for survival and redemption.

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #650 in Books
  • Published on: 2010-02-01
  • Released on: 2010-02-02
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 272 pages

Features

  • ISBN13: 9780061536090
  • Condition: NEW
  • Notes: Brand New from Publisher. No Remainder Mark.

Customer Reviews:

Provocative, visceral, inflammatory5

I was floored that Louise Erdrich did not win the Pulitzer this year for her magnum opus, The Plague of Doves: A Novel (P.S.). That novel doubtlessly cemented her as a peerless wordsmith and unrivaled postmodern writer of satire cum tragedy. Her dazzling metaphors–pataphors, actually, place her in a pedigree by herself. She combines ripples of Philip Roth, undertones of Nabakov and the mythical, regional realism of Faulkner. Her locale is often within the Ojibwe Native populations of North Dakota, as in The Beet Queen: A Novel (P.S.) and Love Medicine (P.S.) (as well as Plague of Doves). She has mastered the multiple-narrative voice, braiding multi-generations of families into an innovative whole.

In a striking departure from her previous work, Erdrich’s Shadow Tag is a psychological examination of a marriage and family on the brittle brink of decay. Instead of the focus being on ancestral histories and buried secrets, the focus is on one family–Gil and Irene and their three young children–and their private devastations. Gil is an artist who achieved substantial success painting portraits of Irene, some of them deeply disturbing. Irene has resumed her doctoral thesis on a 19th century Native American painter whose subjects have died soon after being painted. This provides a stunning metaphor and theme for the title, Shadow Tag, a game where each person tries to step on the others’ shadow, while protecting their own. Native peoples believe that their shadow is their soul. To step on their shadow or to paint their portrait is to steal their soul. Irene is one-half native and Gil is one-quarter, a fact that adds a personal engagement with the lore.

Gil possesses a stealthy, dangerous charm; he is haunted by jealousy and lashes out physically at their son, Florian. Irene, a tall, arresting beauty, drinks wine like water and keeps two diaries. She leaves a false, incendiary Red Diary for Gil to find (she is meting out punishment for his invasion of her privacy) and the true Blue one hidden in a bank vault. Gil and Irene inflict mental, emotional, and physical pain on each other as they struggle individually to maintain control.

Although narrated in the third person, the unreliable voices of Gil and Irene are woven in variously–through their introspection; by Irene’s diaries; and from the children’s uncertainties. The shocking candor of their actions is mired in dark motivation and murky intentions. A maddening cat and mouse game ensues; the Muse is a jealous mistress and will not be ignored. As Gil agitates over his final portrait of Irene, and Irene skillfully undermines Gil, a menacing cloud is cast over the family.

Erdrich controls her narrative with razor precision, deftly restraining and then escalating the spaces between words to arouse and intensify the reading experience. The prose is starkly sensuous, lean and taut, nuanced but inflammatory. The characters connect with a singed, bitter bite and a sable, blighted love. If you require “likeable” characters that are moral exemplars, this novel is not for you. However, if you want to sink your teeth into a bald and naked exploration of a shattered marriage, etched with moral ambiguity, you will not be disappointed. Moreover, the ending will stagger you with its poetic brilliance. It is one of the most thought-provoking final pages I have experienced in eons. A mouth-watering treat for literature lovers.

Love Is A Battlefield–And A Bloody One At That4
Louise Erdrich’s “Shadow Tag” may be one of the most unrepentantly bleak novels about a marriage in dissolution and a family in crisis that I have ever encountered–and yet it is also provocatively fascinating. Unlike most readers that will be picking up this book, I am came to “Shadow Tag” with a fresh pair of eyes and no preconceived notions. I have read none of Erdrich’s previous novels, but her pedigree is certainly impressive having been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for “The Plague of Doves.” Written beautifully, “Shadow Tag” is a raw, angry, and real portrait of two people inextricably linked through love and hate. With three children in the cross hairs, the central couple in Erdrich’s searing novel have turned the family home into a psychological battlefield. And Erdrich puts the reader right in the middle of this contemporary hell. And as much as I sometimes wanted to look away, I was compelled by Erdrich’s unflinching honesty and lyrical storytelling.

Irene and her husband Gil would seem to have it all–money, health, kids–a perfect idealization of the American dream. Gil, an enormously successful painter, has made his career on his devotion to/obsession with Irene. His revealing portraits of her, from the tender to the obscene, have distinguished him in the art world but, at the same time, started to usurp Irene’s own individuality and identity. Sinking into alcoholism to help deal with Gil’s sporadically violent tendencies, the two embark on a classically dysfunctional relationship. When Irene discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, she engages in a new kind torment. She starts to record entries with the sole purpose of devastating everything Gil values to be the truth. This merciless new game is what will ultimately bring the family to the point of no return.

“Shadow Tag” is a tremendously gut-wrenching novel. Its unpleasantness may not be for everyone, but its emotions are real and well earned. Neither Gil nor Irene is a villain or a hero in this piece, and the children are suitably complex and believably traumatized. On an intellectual level, everyone in the family knows what needs to happen. But, as often is the case, intellect does not rule the day and messy emotions take over. From love to hate to jealousy to pride to vengeance–Erdrich spares no one in this uncompromising tale of a family on the brink of disaster. And the journey is well worth the reader’s investment.

curious detachment2
I originally reviewed this book a few days ago, but in thinking about it, I like it less than I thought, and have taken away a star. I kept wanting to care about these characters, and it never happened. Erdrich has the power to make her readers care about her frequently very flawed characters, and it’s just lacking here. Gil and Irene just aren’t very likable. In fact, I think Irene is down-right cruel–creating a fake diary that she knows Gil will read, saying that the children are not his is just despicable. The ending was just awful. It feels like a very angry book. I heard her interviewed, and she said if she had been going to write about her marrage to Michael Doris, she would have done it a long time ago. I wonder, though, if there IS a lot of rage here.

I finished the book feeling empty and disappointed. Usually, when one of her books is less than satisfying on the plot level, I still enjoy her wonderful use of language, the way she lays the words down on the page, but that’s not working here either. I was also disappointed by her last book, “A Plague of Doves,” but I appreciated her skill with the words. Despite all the criticism, I’ll keep reading her though because there have been so many wonderul books, and I’m sure she will come through again. I’ll hope for another “Love Medicine,” “Last Report,” “Painted Drum,” “Tales of Burning Love,” or “Master Butcher’s Singing Club.”

From Publishers Weekly
Erdrich’s bleak latest (after The Plague of Doves) chronicles the collapse of a family. Irene America is a beautiful, introspective woman of Native American ancestry, struggling to finish her dissertation while raising three children. She is married to Gil, a painter whose reputation is built on a series of now iconic portraits of Irene, but who can’t break through to the big time, pigeonholed as a Native American painter. Irene’s fallen out of love with Gil and discovers that he’s been reading her diary, so she begins a new, hidden, diary and uses her original diary as a tool to manipulate Gil. Erdrich deftly alternates between excerpts from these two diaries and third-person narration as she plots the emotional war between Irene and Gil, and Gil’s dark side becomes increasingly apparent as Irene, fighting her own alcoholism, struggles to escape. Erdrich ties her various themes together with an intriguing metaphor—riffing on Native American beliefs about portraits as shadows and shadows as souls—while her steady pacing and remarkable insight into the inner lives of children combine to make this a satisfying and compelling novel. (Feb.)
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Review
Clear, urgent, deep as a swift river…accomplishes the literary miracle of making a reader ravenous to finish it, while stinging with regret at how soon it must end.” (San Francisco Chronicle )

“ A fierce novel…raw…alive…vividly present…it marks a breakthrough for the author.” (Columbus Dispatch )

“A brilliant cautionary tale…Reading it is like watching a wildfire whose flames are so mesmerizingly beautiful that it’s almost easy to ignore the deadly mess left behind.” (Library Journal )

“A domestic drama that builds an almost thriller-like momentum…A novel as dark and tragic as it is difficult to put down” (San Diego Union-Tribune )

“A fast-paced novel of exceptional artistic, intellectual, and psychological merit…Nowhere have love’s complications been better illustrated than in the raw honesty of Shadow Tag.” (Boston Sunday Globe )

“A masterpiece…a captivating work of fiction…exquisite…tightly focused…arresting…This profoundly tragic novel captures that lament in some of Erdrich’s most beautiful and urgent writing.” (Ron Charles, Washington Post )

“A page-turner…a most compelling novel” (Dallas Morning News )

“A portrait of an ‘iconic’ marriage on its way to dissolution…Erdrich’s unbridled urgency yields startlingly original phrasing as well as flashes of blinding lucidity.” (New York Times Book Review )

“An exquisite, character-driven tale…its piercing insights into sex, family, and power are breathtaking…A masterfully concentrated and gripping novel of image and conquest, autonomy and love, inheritance and loss.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist )

“Erdrich offers a portrait that’s convincing…Shadow Tag is wonderfully, painfully readable and revealing.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune )

“Gripping…a hushed and haunting tale that chillingly and convincingly reflects the upper-middle-class American experience, not only the Native American one.” (USA Today )

“Into this deeply personal novel about marriage, family and individual identity, Erdrich weaves broader questions about cause and effect in history…A small masterpiece of compelling, painfully moving fiction.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) )

“Muscular and fearless…It is [Erdrich’s] superb telling of this story that makes it real, her stellar writing that brings powerful truth to invented worlds.” (BookPage )

“Read this if: You’re looking for a well-written, well-told tale that is thought- and discussion- provoking.” (Baltimore Sun )

“SHADOW TAG is compelling…a searing, personal examination of one family that’s falling apart.” (Miami Herald )

“SHADOW TAG is hard to put down…It builds to a spectacular ending with a twist I didn’t see coming…Erdrich has taken a tragedy and turned it into art.” (Philadelphia Inquirer )

About the Author

Louise Erdrich is the author of thirteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Most recently, The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore.