Shadow Tag – Book Review and Giveaway

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.

Highly recommended.

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.


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 sometime after 5:00 pm PST on March 4th and announce their name on my blog. I’ll also send the winner an email.

Good luck!!

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

Shop Indie Bookstores

Please follow and like the blue thistle


Skip to comment form

    • JoAnn on February 25, 2011 at 04:49

    Great review, Wendy! Please enter me in the give-away. Thanks.

  1. I agree with so much of what you said here, how the writing is gorgeous and the characters definitely came alive on the page. Unfortunately it was just too depressing for me. I appreciated the book but just plain didn’t like it much. However, you were able to explain what IS great about it so much more eloquently than I did!

    Also no need to enter me in the giveaway.

  2. This book sounds quite gripping. I’d love to be entered in your great contest. Thanks!

    • Linda B on February 25, 2011 at 06:57

    Please enter me in this giveaway. My daughter-in-law has frequently recommended that I read a Louise Erdrich novel. Thanks.

    • Darcy Odden on February 25, 2011 at 07:29

    Sounds great. Enter me!

    • Andi on February 25, 2011 at 07:32

    Wow, this sounds like a stunning novel. I’ve never read any of Erdrich’s stuff, so I’m really keen to try. ENTER ME! 🙂

    • zibilee on February 25, 2011 at 07:59

    Even though this book sounds rather dark, I find the interplay between the husband and the wife and the fact that they are so antagonistic of each other to be fascinating. I really want to read this book, and have read so many great reviews of it all over the place. It sounds like it held you spellbound, and I am hoping that it does the same to me. Fantastic review, I’d love to be entered in your giveaway!

    • Elisabeth on February 25, 2011 at 08:04

    I have been wanting to read Shadow Tag, I am a fan ever since reading and loving The Master Butchers Singing Club and The Beet Queen. Please enter me in the giveaway and thanks for offering it up!

    ladybook21 at yahoo dot com

  3. I love the distinction you make between loving it and being blown away by it. I was impressed with it (it was my first experience with Erdrich but won’t be my last), but I thought the middle dragged a bit much for my taste. I loved the premise and the beginning, and then the ending redeemed it for me. It’s a book I’m glad I read, but I fall short of recommending it to others who don’t enjoy “difficult books.” I’m glad you were such a fan of this one!

    • Shannon Lind on February 25, 2011 at 09:23

    Enter me!

    And wish me luck!


    • Dianne on February 25, 2011 at 09:24

    Have wanted to read her novels. Would love the chance to start with this one. Concept sounds intriguing. Enter me.

    • Wendy on February 25, 2011 at 09:25

    Joann, Kathy, Linda B., Darcy, Andi, Heather (Zibilee), and Elisabeth – you’re all entered! Thanks for stopping by!

    Heather @ Book Addiction: I can see that this book would turn a lot of people off. It is so dark. But, that said, Erdrich’s storytelling and gorgeous writing saved it for me – I just couldn’t put it down. It reminds me a little of Caribou Island by David Vann which I also recently read – dark, horrifying, like a train wreck, but I couldn’t look away.

    Carrie: It never really dragged for me – I think I enjoyed the psychological stuff the most in this book (although some of the Native American lore also reeled me in). I agree it is a difficult book on many levels.

    • Wendy on February 25, 2011 at 09:26

    Shannon Lind and Dianne: You are entered. Good luck!

    • Wallace on February 25, 2011 at 10:20

    Oh my gosh… I want to read this book RIGHT NOW, haha… great review! I’ve seen this book for awhile, but didn’t realize what it was about. Sounds thrilling.

    Would you please enter me in the giveaway? Thank you!

  4. I like the plot idea of using the diary – that sounds unique. It also reminds of this silly thing I did in high school. I broke with my boyfriend and he started telling everyone that he had dumped me. So, I wrote a note to a friend but pretended I wrote when we were still dating and dated it that way. I went on and on about how I wanted to break up with the guy because I had a crush on someone else and we had flirted at this event we were at together. Then my friend “accidentally” dropped the note in such a way the ex-boyfriend’s ex would see it and read it. Word got back to the ex and everyone else. It was wonderful, if very petty. 🙂 I would love to be entered to win a copy!

    • Danah on February 25, 2011 at 14:10

    Enter me! Good luck everyone.

    • Tiffany D. on February 25, 2011 at 17:24

    Please enter me. I have had this book on my wish list for some time now and would love to read it. Thank you for the chance!

  5. I can imagine that I’d be emotionally drained after reading this one myself. I’m glad to know that despite that, you felt like it was a good read – that’s really saying something.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

    • Kailana on February 25, 2011 at 19:11

    I have been curious about this book for a while. Great review!

    • Jennifer on February 25, 2011 at 20:20

    Thanks for introducing me to a new author. Please enter me in your contest!

    • Aths on February 26, 2011 at 09:05

    What a beautiful review! You totally had me when you say that you didn’t enjoy the book but went and rated it 5 stars anyway!

  6. Enter me, please!

    • Margie on February 26, 2011 at 13:11

    Book sounds intriguing…please enter me in the giveaway. Thank you!

    • Sheila on February 26, 2011 at 16:20

    Please enter me in your giveaway!

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

    • Gavin on February 27, 2011 at 14:11

    Please put my name in the giveaway!

    • Wendy on February 28, 2011 at 08:23

    Wallace: You’re entered 🙂

    Lindsey: LOL – you’ll relate to this book! I’ve entered you in the giveaway.

    Danah and Tiffany: You’re entered.

    Heather: you’re welcome – I always love being on your tours 🙂

    Kailana: Thanks 🙂

    Jennifer: You’re welcome and you’re entered!

    Aths: Thank you! It is weird to me sometimes how a book can be unenjoyable, but still a book that impresses to the point I have to give it 5 stars!

    Julie, Margie, Sheila, and Gavin: You’re all entered! thanks for playing 😉

    • Lady K on February 28, 2011 at 10:22

    An awesome review ! Because of you, I want to read this book ! 😛 So … enter me please ?

    • Wendy on February 28, 2011 at 10:25

    Lady K.: thank you! You’re entered 🙂 Good luck!

    • Linda Kish on February 28, 2011 at 11:37

    I would love to read this book. So, enter me., please.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

    • Debbie on March 2, 2011 at 10:35

    I’m in. Accumulating my summer read list of books now.

  7. Please enter me in the drawing and thanks for the chance!

    I think you really hit the nail on the head with your description of Erdrich’s writing. This one does sound like an emotionally difficult read, but also a worthwhile one!

    • Flo on March 2, 2011 at 12:25

    First of all, please excuse my english (bec. I’m French).

    Second, reading your review reminds me of the two Erdrich’s novels I’ve read until now (“The painted drum” and “The last report on the miracles at Little No Horse”). The mesmerizing and poetic writing, the characters, … And I could have use two of your sentences to review the novels I read : the fact of being blown and the “number of stickies that cling to the pages”.

    I don’t know if I should thank you for this new item in my “TBR list” (with high priority !! ) or if I must curse (?) you but as I noticed the constest was international, I’d like you entered me, pleeeaaaaase 😉 (the book hasn’t been translated in French yet).

    Sorry for this endless comment !

    • avalonne83 on March 3, 2011 at 12:28

    Great giveaway! I’d love to be entered.

    Please count me in. Thanks.

    avalonne83 [at] yahoo [dot] it

    • Kirsten on March 4, 2011 at 09:17

    Looks really intriguing. Enter me please 🙂

    • Wendy on March 5, 2011 at 18:11

    Thanks to all of you who stopped by to be entered.

    Flo: No need to apologize for your English – I understood you perfectly! So sorry you didn’t win the copy of this book (I picked randomly!)…but it is good to hear from another reader who loves Erdrich. When the book is published in France, I hope you’ll get a chance to read it!

    • Flo on March 6, 2011 at 09:22

    Thanks ! And, we’ll see if I can wait or not the translation. I’ve got a specific list of books “not already translated” I want to read and it’s growing so fast that something (like going to the book store…) must be done 😉

    • Wendy on March 7, 2011 at 08:55

    Flo: You’re welcome 🙂 Hope you can get your hands on the book soon!

Comments have been disabled.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)