Day 179: Shadow Tag

Cover for Shadow TagWhen Irene America takes out her diary one day, she realizes that her husband Gil has been reading it. She is outraged, so she starts another diary, a true one, which she keeps in a safe deposit box at the bank. In her original diary, she begins inserting falsehoods to torment Gil. The disintegration of their marriage is the plot of the disturbing Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich.

Irene wants to leave Gil. He is manipulative and abusive to her and their three children. His moods are mercurial–even the dogs are wary of him. He is obsessively jealous, to the point of resenting the attention Irene gives their children.

Irene is not perfect either. She drinks too much and resorts to subterfuge and manipulation. She is alternately endeared and repelled by Gil’s attempts to win her back.

Gil is a successful Native American artist who has painted only Irene for years, but now she finds his depictions of her degrading. Still, she doesn’t have the courage to leave him, which will have fateful results. The tension in the novel builds to a surprising and tragic finish.

A detached omniscient narrator alternates telling the story with the two diaries written by Irene. You do not find out who the omniscient narrator is until the last chapter.

I can’t help but wonder how much of this psychological novel is a fictionalized account of Erdrich’s marriage to Michael Dorris. I see now that a review in the Washington Post agrees. If so, it is a masterly and brave work of self-exposure that faithfully shows the unpredictability of marital relationships. It is extremely well written and very sad. If you require likeable characters in your fiction, you won’t find them here, however.


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