If Gil didn’t know that she knew about him reading her diary, she could write things there to manipulate him. Even hurt him. She thought she would start with a simple test, some irresistible hook. – from Shadow Tag, page 27 –
A soul could be captured through a shadow. It was in the Ojibwe language. Waabaamoojichaagwaan – the word for mirror also can 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. – from Shadow Tag, page 40 –
Gil and Irene are married with three children: thirteen year old Florian (a math genius who learns from his mother to calm his anger with alcohol and drugs), eleven year old Riel (who plots elaborate survival plans to save her family in the event of disaster), and five year old Stoney (who clutches his stuffed animals in order to feel safe in a home which is becoming increasingly unpredictable). Gil is a successful artist who paints only portraits of Irene – portraits which are often humiliating and verge on the pornographic. Irene longs to leave her marriage to a man who is emotionally abusive to her and has begun to strike out at his children. But, their shared history, complicated by a love that requires Irene to submit and Gil to control, holds Irene in the marriage. When she discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, she decides to use this as a means to manipulate him, a way to force him to leave her.
Shadow Tag is a dark, disturbing, and psychologically thrilling novel about the unraveling of a marriage and the consequences for children living in a dysfunctional family. Gil is a highly intellectual man who is obsessively attached to his wife. He believes she is unfaithful to him, and is even jealous of Irene’s love for his children.
He was taciturn, depressed, sarcastic, charming. He’d grin when Irene though he was going to yell, turn fond on a dime. And he hadn’t always been so angry. The truth was, he needed Irene’s full attention. He’d had it before the children came. They took it away and he was jealous from the beginning. – from Shadow Tag, page 56 –
Irene lacks the strength to walk away from Gil – his control over her is nearly complete – so she becomes pathologically passive-aggressive, leaving tantalizing untruths in the diary she knows that Gil is reading. Their relationship becomes a game – like the title of the book, they take turns baiting each other, and all I could think about was the childhood game of tag, where one runs up and slaps another, turns and sprints away yelling “Tag, you’re it!”
Gil had a wall. Irene had a wall. Between the two walls there was a neutral, untouched area, a wilderness of all they did not know and could not imagine about the other person. – from Shadow Tag, page 151 –
Louise Erdrich’s prose is mesmerizing. She builds the tension between Gil and Irene beautifully. There can be no happy end, and yet the reader continues to read, anxious to see what will happen next, afraid to look away even though tragedy is just around the corner. Woven through the novel are references to Native American lore. Riel, the only daughter in the family, clings to her heritage for the power it represents. Irene examines and seeks understanding in the stories of her tribe and even names her daughter after an Indian poet.
A sure sign of a great book is the number of stickies that cling to its pages when I am finished reading. Shadow Tag had dozens of them. Erdrich’s writing has a poetic, yet stark quality to it. Her characters come alive on the page. She deftly controls the plot, teasing out tantalizing morsels of information that keep the reader turning the pages. Shadow Tag is not an enjoyable read – it made my mouth grow dry and my heart ache. There is an element of inevitability which informs the story. How can things possibly be fixed between these two characters? How can the children ultimately be saved from the wreck of their family?
As I turned the final page, I found myself emotionally spent. But, even though I cannot say I enjoyed the novel, I was blown away by it. Louise Erdrich is the consummate story teller. Once the reader is in her capable hands, there is nothing to do but allow her to carry them to the end.
Readers who love literary fiction, psychological thrillers, and beautifully told stories with magnificent language, will want to read this book.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour.
Readers may read other reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Tour page for Shadow Tag and following the links.
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.
Because I had bought a hardcover copy of this book when it first came out, I have a trade paperback version of the book which the publisher provided. I am happy to give away my trade paperback to one lucky winner. Here are the details of the giveaway:
- Contest open from February 24th through March 4th, 2011. Comments close for the giveaway on March 4th at 5:00 pm PST.
- Contest is open INTERNATIONALLY.
- To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me you want to be entered. If you don’t want to be entered, but want to leave a comment on the review, feel free to do so. If you do NOT say “ENTER ME,” you won’t be entered!
- I’ll pick ONE winner using Random.org sometime after 5:00 pm PST on March 4th and announce their name on my blog. I’ll also send the winner an email.
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