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Shadow Tag: A Novel Hardcover – February 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Erdrich's bleak latest (after The Plague of Doves) chronicles the collapse of a family. Irene America is a beautiful, introspective woman of Native American ancestry, struggling to finish her dissertation while raising three children. She is married to Gil, a painter whose reputation is built on a series of now iconic portraits of Irene, but who can't break through to the big time, pigeonholed as a Native American painter. Irene's fallen out of love with Gil and discovers that he's been reading her diary, so she begins a new, hidden, diary and uses her original diary as a tool to manipulate Gil. Erdrich deftly alternates between excerpts from these two diaries and third-person narration as she plots the emotional war between Irene and Gil, and Gil's dark side becomes increasingly apparent as Irene, fighting her own alcoholism, struggles to escape. Erdrich ties her various themes together with an intriguing metaphor—riffing on Native American beliefs about portraits as shadows and shadows as souls—while her steady pacing and remarkable insight into the inner lives of children combine to make this a satisfying and compelling novel. (Feb.)
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“A portrait of an ‘iconic’ marriage on its way to dissolution…Erdrich’s unbridled urgency yields startlingly original phrasing as well as flashes of blinding lucidity.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Gripping…a hushed and haunting tale that chillingly and convincingly reflects the upper-middle-class American experience, not only the Native American one.” (USA Today)

“ A fierce novel…raw…alive…vividly present…it marks a breakthrough for the author.” (Columbus Dispatch)

“Read this if: You’re looking for a well-written, well-told tale that is thought- and discussion- provoking.” (Baltimore Sun)

“A page-turner…a most compelling novel” (Dallas Morning News)

“SHADOW TAG is hard to put down...It builds to a spectacular ending with a twist I didn’t see coming...Erdrich has taken a tragedy and turned it into art.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“A domestic drama that builds an almost thriller-like momentum…A novel as dark and tragic as it is difficult to put down” (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Clear, urgent, deep as a swift river…accomplishes the literary miracle of making a reader ravenous to finish it, while stinging with regret at how soon it must end.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“SHADOW TAG is compelling…a searing, personal examination of one family that’s falling apart.” (Miami Herald)

“An exquisite, character-driven tale…its piercing insights into sex, family, and power are breathtaking…A masterfully concentrated and gripping novel of image and conquest, autonomy and love, inheritance and loss.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)

“Muscular and fearless…It is [Erdrich’s] superb telling of this story that makes it real, her stellar writing that brings powerful truth to invented worlds.” (BookPage)

“Erdrich offers a portrait that’s convincing…Shadow Tag is wonderfully, painfully readable and revealing.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“A fast-paced novel of exceptional artistic, intellectual, and psychological merit…Nowhere have love’s complications been better illustrated than in the raw honesty of Shadow Tag.” (Boston Sunday Globe)

“A masterpiece…a captivating work of fiction…exquisite…tightly focused…arresting…This profoundly tragic novel captures that lament in some of Erdrich’s most beautiful and urgent writing.” (Ron Charles, Washington Post)

“A brilliant cautionary tale…Reading it is like watching a wildfire whose flames are so mesmerizingly beautiful that it’s almost easy to ignore the deadly mess left behind.” (Library Journal)

“Into this deeply personal novel about marriage, family and individual identity, Erdrich weaves broader questions about cause and effect in history...A small masterpiece of compelling, painfully moving fiction.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061536091
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061536090
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Louise Erdrich is the author of twelve novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her debut 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. Her most recent novel, The Plague of Doves, a New York Times bestseller, received the highest praise from Philip Roth, who wrote, "Louise Erdrich's imaginative freedom has reached its zenith--The Plague of Doves is her dazzling masterpiece." Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Customer Reviews

Beautifully written and poetic in her insight and prose.
Erdrich has the power to make her readers care about her frequently very flawed characters, and it's just lacking here.
Amazon Customer
I hate to say this about any book I read, but I truly did not like this one.
Tracy L.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 102 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was floored that Louise Erdrich did not win the Pulitzer this year for her magnum opus, The Plague of Doves: A Novel (P.S.). 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: A Novel (P.S.) and Love Medicine (P.S.) (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.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on March 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I originally reviewed this book a few days ago, but in thinking about it, I like it less than I thought, and have taken away a star. I kept wanting to care about these characters, and it never happened. Erdrich has the power to make her readers care about her frequently very flawed characters, and it's just lacking here. Gil and Irene just aren't very likable. In fact, I think Irene is down-right cruel--creating a fake diary that she knows Gil will read, saying that the children are not his is just despicable. The ending was just awful. It feels like a very angry book. I heard her interviewed, and she said if she had been going to write about her marrage to Michael Doris, she would have done it a long time ago. I wonder, though, if there IS a lot of rage here.

I finished the book feeling empty and disappointed. Usually, when one of her books is less than satisfying on the plot level, I still enjoy her wonderful use of language, the way she lays the words down on the page, but that's not working here either. I was also disappointed by her last book, "A Plague of Doves," but I appreciated her skill with the words. Despite all the criticism, I'll keep reading her though because there have been so many wonderul books, and I'm sure she will come through again. I'll hope for another "Love Medicine," "Last Report," "Painted Drum," "Tales of Burning Love," or "Master Butcher's Singing Club."
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Louise Erdrich's "Shadow Tag" may be one of the most unrepentantly bleak novels about a marriage in dissolution and a family in crisis that I have ever encountered--and yet it is also provocatively fascinating. Unlike most readers that will be picking up this book, I am came to "Shadow Tag" with a fresh pair of eyes and no preconceived notions. I have read none of Erdrich's previous novels, but her pedigree is certainly impressive having been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for "The Plague of Doves." Written beautifully, "Shadow Tag" is a raw, angry, and real portrait of two people inextricably linked through love and hate. With three children in the cross hairs, the central couple in Erdrich's searing novel have turned the family home into a psychological battlefield. And Erdrich puts the reader right in the middle of this contemporary hell. And as much as I sometimes wanted to look away, I was compelled by Erdrich's unflinching honesty and lyrical storytelling.

Irene and her husband Gil would seem to have it all--money, health, kids--a perfect idealization of the American dream. Gil, an enormously successful painter, has made his career on his devotion to/obsession with Irene. His revealing portraits of her, from the tender to the obscene, have distinguished him in the art world but, at the same time, started to usurp Irene's own individuality and identity. Sinking into alcoholism to help deal with Gil's sporadically violent tendencies, the two embark on a classically dysfunctional relationship. When Irene discovers that Gil has been reading her diary, she engages in a new kind torment. She starts to record entries with the sole purpose of devastating everything Gil values to be the truth.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Shadow on February 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I tried so hard to get through this book. I have this "thing" about finishing what I start. I began to dread picking it up to read a few pages each night. Somehow I managed to get halfway through. I cannot connect to any character in this story. I am not even sure what the story is, actually. The diary entries are almost non-existent. Reading this book takes an effort, since there are no quotation marks around the characters speech. This is not the first book I've read in this style (I don't understand the point of no quotes), but with a lack of storyline, characters you never get to know, and two diaries which are hardly ever mentioned, it feels like a chore reading it. I don't care how it ends or what happens to these people. I am done with it.
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