Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Review of Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag: A Novel
3.5 out of 5: This bleak novel tracks the slow destruction of a marriage and, ultimately, a family. Irene, a failed historian, and her husband Gil, an artist who’s grown famous off of his revealing portraits of Irene, are the parents of three precocious children, including a math genius and a budding artist. While the love between Irene and Gil is undoubtedly powerful, the couple’s self-destructive, co-dependent tendencies result in constant friction. At the start of the novel, this marriage has already descended into an unhealthy state, and Louise Erdrich masterfully captures Irene’s and Gil’s shared sicknesses without crossing the line into melodrama. The couple’s deliberate ripping apart of their family is unpleasant to witness but profoundly moving nonetheless.

I really wanted to love this book, and is has many wonderful aspects: poetic language, powerful imagery, psychological depth, and the haunting (and surprising) ending, to name just a few. The novel’s harmony, unfortunately, is unsettled by some distracting flaws. Although most of the story is told through Irene’s point of view, Erdrich chooses to switch points of view periodically, and seemingly at random, introducing a jarring incoherence into an otherwise well-structured narrative. The children, even the youngest, say and do things that are absurdly adult. Despite that annoyance, I still found myself empathizing with the improbably wise children, rather than with Irene or Gil, who are intended to be at the emotional center of the story but who are too contemptible to elicit much empathy. Despite these flaws, Shadow Tag nevertheless succeeds as a suspenseful and memorable read.


S. Krishna said...

I'm still interested in reading this book, but will keep the flaws you pointed out in mind. Thanks for the review!

Lisa said...

I've been looking forward to this one. Thanks for making sure my expectations are realistic!

Anonymous said...

Still not even 4 stars for you?
This was a real departure for her. I was a little put off, now that you mention it, by those little flaws. But enough to knock it down to 3.5?

Have you red Plague of Doves? That should have won the Pulitzer.

You gave Little Bee 5 stars (so did I)--but...I still had a prob with the absurdity of her bringing her little boy to that spot on the beach. After what she has been through (including almost losing him near home), she never would have just brought him to that spot in Africa. I could not wrap my head around that.

So, what I meant was--some flaws bother you more than others? (sorry about bringing up a different book here, but I was making a point. Well, maybe a pointless point!)

I read your reviews every Wed.--I really miss the daily ones, though. Your reviews are always so incisive and rich.

Zibilee said...

This book kind of reminds me of Revolutionary Road, but I can see that it has a few differing elements to it. I am sorry to hear that it was structurally defunct, because after reading your synopsis, I thought it might be something I'd enjoy. I appreciate your honesty in this review.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Thanks for the honest review. I do want to read this book, but I'm not sure if I can handle it right now, after just finishing American Rust; Meyer --good, but very bleak as well.

Lisa said...

I hate it when I really want to love a book and I don't. She's written some great books - I'm still planning to check this one out.

LisaMM said...

I read this a couple weeks ago.. haven't reviewed it yet so I just skimmed your review. I found the book pretty disturbing and truthfully I'm not sure I'll even review it. It held my interest, though.. I don't know. I'm really on the fence about it.

Cheap Viagra said...

What a nice review!
I already read this book, then I would like to follow Louise steps in order to be that successful!
In short, I liked it a lot due to its great thrill!

Anonymous said...

I finally read this book after hearing about it first on your review. Although certain aspects were clearly disturbing, in the end, I am glad I read it.

I agree that the children seemed far more wise than their years, but that is what naturally evolves when parents are addicts. You see it all the time...and I could not agree more, all I could think about were the kids. I did not really care much about how hurtful the parents were to one another. A. Hollis

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