Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shadow Tag

By Louise Erdrich
Harper Perennial 272 pgs
From my personal library
Rating: 4

This book is excruciating. Also spellbinding. You will be appalled by the mind games being played but you will also come to understand them. At first you won't believe that you would ever play these games. But then you will begin to reflect and wonder if you haven't played some of these games yourself. I enjoyed this book greatly. It is a pleasure to read. Just be forewarned.

Irene and Gil are married and have 3 children. Gil is a successful artist and Irene is supposed to be working on her thesis. Irene has been keeping a journal since their first child was born. There are many of these red bound journals. She has recently discovered that Gil is reading her journal so she has bought another journal, a blue one, and it is the real journal. She has gone so far as to rent a safe deposit box for this blue journal. So far so good but Irene keeps writing in the red journal. She is writing for Gil.

Gil is an almost completely unsympathetic character. He never exhibits any kindness that is not corrupted by self. He so desperately needs to keep this family of his together that he is moved to ever more inspired heights of cruelty. The majority of Gil's work are portraits of Irene in many poses, all graphic images of different stages of body and life. His portraits are an attempt to maintain control over Irene. Almost as if the old Native American belief that a picture takes some of your soul is true. Gil takes pieces of Irene's soul.

Irene seems a much more sympathetic character. But then you realize that you may have made a mistake. There are deep, very dark currents at work in this marriage. Irene begins to resent the portraits Gil has painted of her over the years. She begins to feel those pieces of her soul as they go missing. In big ragged chunks. So since Irene has discovered Gil's disrespect and invasion of her privacy she begins writing fiction for Gil to read.

This is how the plot spins out of control for everyone. As Gil and Irene each struggle for control of the other they take no prisoners. Shadow Tag is sort of a thriller and the tension builds and builds. The twist at the end shocks. And then again it doesn't. You saw this coming even if you didn't. And it tells you all you needed to know about Gil and Irene.

Please visit Louise Erdrich's book store: http://birchbarkbooks.com

*Note that many people believe this book has autobiographical elements. You can take a look at this short bio of Ms. Erdrich's former husband Michael Dorris and make up your own mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Dorris

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