"History is two things, after all. 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 ti had occurred, was meaningless."Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich begins when Irene America discovers that her husband, a famous artist named Gil who's work is exclusively portraits of Irene, has been reading her diary. Instead of confronting him, Irene begins to keep a secret diary, the Blue Notebook, as well as continuing her Red Diary, hidden where Gil can read it and purposefully written to manipulate him. Shadow Tag alternates from excerpts of these two diaries to a third person narrative of the impact they have on the lives and marriage of Gil and Irene. Despite their relationship being on shaky ground they try to keep up appearances for their three young children. Irene relies more and more on alcohol to numb the pain of her marriage, which she wants to end, if only Gil will let her go. Maybe she can use the Red Diary to her advantage after all...
From the start, I loved the basic premise of Shadow Tag the instant I heard it, so wonderfully manipulative. In addition to the universal relationship issues Erdrich addresses, I found it interesting how she dealt with some uniquely Native American dilemmas, such as Gil's attempt not to be characterized solely as a Native American artist, but rather just an Artist. Shadow Tag is a dark and complex novel, and the characters, especially Gil and Irene, were equally so. As a reader, I didn't particularly like or connect to any of the characters, but Erdrich develops them so richly that I never doubted their existence and was completely intrigued to see what they would do next. The book deals with some interesting moral and emotional questions. That said, I do wish that Shadow Tag had revolved more around the diaries- they play a key role at the start and ending of the book, but seem to be somewhat forgotten in the middle- as I found that premise the most interesting.
Ultimately, Erdrich has written an intensely dark story with extremely complex characters. Although I found the middle of the book weaker than the beginning and ending, Erdrich definitely hooked me and I found myself both surprised and heartbroken how the novel finished. The book itself was depressing enough that I do not imagine myself rereading it, as it leads the reader to a pretty dark place, but as that was clearly the intent Erdrich has definitely succeeded. Despite that, I did find myself wishing that there were at least a few light moments to contrast all the dark. There are also some interesting observations when it comes to Native American culture, which is something I don't often read about and appreciated. Although the middle portion of the novel lacked the suspense present at the beginning of Shadow Tag it is well-written story with an intriguing premise and complex but dark characters- just don't read it with any expectation of redemption.
Release Date: February 1st, 2010
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.