Monday, April 23, 2018

Shadow Tag

          Just as spring comes on, a book set in frigid Minnesota captured my attention.This wasn't a surprise. First, because it's a book by Pulitzer Prize finalist Louise Erdrich, author of  more than 20 books which include novels, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and children's stories, and second because it is about an unraveling marriage, art and the devastating psychological games couples can play. These are not themes I generally read about, but Erdrich is a master at understanding human beings with all their flaws and passions. Shadow Tag is a keenly honest work of fiction.
       Irene America, the main character, is married to Gil, a painter who successfully sells work featuring his wife as the subject. The couple, of Native American parentage, have three children, unique and intelligent kids who become captive to the mounting friction of their parents dissolution, featuring frequent arguing and drinking to excess. As Irene becomes more convinced that her marriage must end, she decides to keep two journals; a red one, which she keeps at home, and a blue one, which she keeps in a safe deposit box in a bank. In the red journal, Irene creates drama and tension by writing fictional episodes of her life, knowing that Gil peeks into that journal on a regular basis, knowing that it will infuriate him. Despite the fact that he paints her, lives with her and has had three children with her, the revelations in the journal lead to a terrible undoing.
     Erdrich navigates the intensity of this couple's interactions, their sexual lives becoming more violent, their wine and vodka bottles being emptied and thrown out windows into the snow, their children trying to make sense of their father's escalating anger. Interspersed are fact filled passages about nineteenth century painter, George Catlin, whose work focused on Native Americans. The pacing of the plot speeds along towards a highly dramatic climax, and a surprise about how the book was put together.
      The title refers to a game in which people chase each other and are tagged when one of their shadows touch another's. The characters in this book encounter each other in shadow and light, in secret and in eventual revelations. If you like this book, check out Erdrich's Four Souls, a story of Native Women, crime and relationships across generations on audiobook, or The Round House, about a family who experiences violence on an Indian reservation and the hunt for the person responsible.

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