The basics: The story of the troubled marriage of Irene and Gil, Shadow Tag combines the fact and fiction of their lives. Irene discovers Gil has been reading her diary, so she moves her real diary to a safe deposit box and writes in it at the bank. She begins to tell elaborate stories in the diary Gil reads to manipulate him.
My thoughts: Shadow Tag is the first Louise Erdrich book I've read, but it won't be the last. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing from the beginning. Overall, however, I found the narrative somewhat uneven in the middle sections. The first fifty pages were glorious, and I devoured them and frequently scribbled quotes. There were hints of deeper issues: domestic violence, alcoholism, and loneliness. The theme of Native American identity flowed beautifully. Erdrich dabbles with how we tell stories and construct history, both personally and culturally:
To have meaning, history must consist of both occurrence and narrative. If she never told, if he never told, if the two of them never talked about it, there was no narrative. So the act, though it had occurred, was meaningless.About half way through, the book plateaued for me. The writing was still lovely, but there wasn't much that was new. Things that were initially hinted at were made clearer. Set in Minneapolis in the winter, the narrative was often quite dreary. A troubled marriage is dreary, of course, but I could not sense any hints of happiness in their past, present or future. The novel became so bleak I contemplated abandoning it, but Erdrich's haunting writing continued to captivate me after I lost hope for the characters. By the ending, I was surprised how much I liked the novel as a whole despite my misgivings about parts of it.
Favorite passage: "How many times have I told you how difficult it is to resist the lure of the historical moment? The one action, the instantaneous truth that changes everything? How many times have I described my own struggles in telling stories, relating historical occurrences, searching for the sequence of events that results in a pattern we can recognize as history? There are always many moments, there is never just one. There are many points of clarity and many causes to one effect." (p. 48)
The verdict: Shadow Tag was a bleak and uneven read, but Erdrich's poetic prose, an interesting premise and a dynamic ending make this novel a worthwhile read.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 253 pages
Publication date: February 2, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours
Curious what others think? The full list of tour stops is here.
Have you read other Louise Erdrich novels? Which one(s) should I read next?
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