Customer Reviews for

Shadow Tag

Average Rating 2.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

10 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

Provocative, visceral, inflammatory

I was floored that Louise Erdrich did not win the Pulitzer this year for her magnum opus, Plague of Doves. That novel doubtlessly cemented her as a peerless wordsmith and unrivaled postmodern writer of satire cum tragedy. Her dazzling metaphors-pataphors, actually, pl...
I was floored that Louise Erdrich did not win the Pulitzer this year for her magnum opus, Plague of Doves. 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 and Love Medicine (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.

posted by switterbug on November 16, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

Heroine in Shadow Tag tough to take

Louise Erdrich's new novel, Shadow Tag, has a strong resemblance to the author's life story but not identical at all. Ms Erdrich writes well as usual but there is one serious flaw in this work. The leading fermale character is a selfish, confused, grating and dissatisfi...
Louise Erdrich's new novel, Shadow Tag, has a strong resemblance to the author's life story but not identical at all. Ms Erdrich writes well as usual but there is one serious flaw in this work. The leading fermale character is a selfish, confused, grating and dissatisfied woman with whom the reader looks for reasons to care about. The opposite occurs and the husband is not written fully enough to be more than a catalyst character. A negative heroine is not unusual but does not work when the author is attempting to create someone whom the reader may not like but fully understands. Understanding the heroine is not easy here and therein lies the problem in Shadow Tag.

posted by rossberliner on February 20, 2010

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Singles could read this before marrying.

    Nicely written yet a sad downer. Some material so true.
    I was surprised.

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    Posted February 7, 2010

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    Posted December 15, 2009

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    Posted February 1, 2010

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    Posted February 28, 2010

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    Posted February 19, 2010

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    Posted January 27, 2010

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