Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
A Novel

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"Here is the most telling fact: you wish to possess me.

Here is another fact: I loved you and let you think you could."

When Irene America discovers that her husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, stashed securely in a safe-deposit box. There she records the truth about her life and her marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative farce. Alternating between these two records, complemented by unflinching third-person narration, Shadow Tag is an eerily gripping read.

When the novel opens, Irene is resuming work on her doctoral thesis about George Catlin, the nineteenth-century painter whose Native American subjects often regarded his portraits with suspicious wonder. Gil, who gained notoriety as an artist through his emotionally revealing portraits of his wife—work that is adoring, sensual, and humiliating, even shocking—realizes that his fear of losing Irene may force him to create the defining work of his career.

Meanwhile, Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children: fourteen-year-old genius Florian, who escapes his family's unraveling with joints and a stolen bottle of wine; Riel, their only daughter, an eleven-year-old feverishly planning to preserve her family, no matter what disaster strikes; and sweet kindergartener Stoney, who was born, his parents come to realize, at the beginning of the end.

As her home increasingly becomes a place of violence and secrets, and she drifts into alcoholism, Irene moves to end her marriage. But her attachment to Gil is filled with shadowy need and delicious ironies. In brilliantly controlled prose, Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and one family's struggle for survival and redemption.


About Louise Erdrich

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Louise Erdrich lives with her family in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore. Ms. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and this story—which will, in the end, span one hundred years in the life of an Ojibwe woman—was inspired when Ms. Erdrich and her mother, Rita Gourneau Erdrich, were researching their own family history. Chickadee begins a new part of the story that started with The Birchbark House, a National Book Award finalist; The Game of Silence, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction; and the acclaimed The Porcupine Year.Ms. Erdrich is also the bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels for adults, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves and National Book Award finalist The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. She is also the author of the picture book Grandmother's Pigeon, illustrated by Jim LaMarche.
Published February 1, 2011 by Harper Perennial. 272 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Shadow Tag

Kirkus Reviews

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Taking a risky leap, Erdrich sets aside the magical-realist style of her many volumes about the Ojibwes (The Red Convertible, 2008 etc.) to write a domestic tragedy set among sophisticated, assimilated, highly educated and successful Native Americans.

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

The New York Times

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Louise Erdrich’s new novel is a portrait of an “iconic” marriage on its way to dissolution, and it appears to be seeded with deliberate allusions to her own marriage with the writer Michael Dorris.

Feb 07 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel


With the red diary still in place (the one Gil is reading) Irene begins to manipulate her husband's thinking, his emotions, and his beliefs by writing false information and extremely hurtful things pertaining to their marriage.

Feb 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Book Reporter

That examination reveals that “[e]nduring love comes when we love most of what we learn about the other person and can tolerate the faults they cannot change.” Protagonist Irene America explores the nature of love --- and trust --- when trying to establish her personal identity in a quagmired mar...

May 02 2011 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

The Globe and Mail

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In Shadow Tag, her 13th novel, Louise Erdrich focuses on the faltering marriage of Irene and Gil, and it's impossible not to wonder how much of the novel is informed by her own troubles (Erdrich's husband, Michael Dorris, committed suicide in 1997 as the two were in the middle of an acrimonious d...

Feb 11 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

The Washington Post

Louise Erdrich's new novel is a tense little masterpiece of marital strife that recalls her tragic relationship with the poet Michael Dorris.

Feb 03 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Christian Science Monitor

Do you (a) bop him over the head with it and tell him not be such an idiot, (b) leave, as the violation of trust is really creepy, (c) seek counseling, as there’s clearly a problem here, or (d) don’t tell him you found out, and instead start keeping a secret diary in a bank deposit box while writ...

Feb 10 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

USA Today

So many of life's darker moments occur in the shadows, out of plain view: a child's terror dreams, a teenager's descent into drinking, a mother and father's mutually manipulative behavior, played out in bedrooms, basements and, in Shadow Tag, a safe deposit box at the bank.Set during a snowy Minn...

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Dallas News

This tense new novel by Louise Erdrich presents a raw family drama that differs greatly from her earlier complex novels about American Indians , such as Love Medicine and The Antelope Wife.

Feb 28 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Oregon Live

"He hadn't known the air could weigh so much," Louise Erdrich writes of Gil, one of the major characters who is suffering mightily in her stunning new novel, "Shadow Tag," a fast-reading, breathtaking work that is unlike anything else she has written.

Mar 06 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Louise Erdrich's new novel opens with an intriguing premise: a wife, knowing that her abusive husband is secretly reading her diary, decides to use those journal entries to manipulate him;

Feb 12 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Bookmarks Magazine

Ron Charles Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars "There is a certain denseness, a cultural and psychological richness, in most of Louise Erdrich's work that's largely missing from Shadow Tag.

Feb 01 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Sun Sentinel

Irene America (the surname derives from partial American Indian descent), a haphazard doctoral student, lives in Minneapolis with her three precocious children and husband, Gil, also of partial American Indian background, a highly successful painter who nonetheless resents critical pigeonholing.

Feb 12 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Project MUSE

Gil is an Indian artist, and Irene is an Indian maid.

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Project MUSE

Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag could be read as a roman à clef, or just as easily as a novel of ideas.

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Publishing Perspective

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.

Feb 03 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

When Falls the Coliseum

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May 16 2011 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

Chicago Tribune

Drawing on her Native American roots, he paints portraits of her ancestors, which, though praised by critics, marginalize the work by labeling Gil an American Indian artist who depicts “the iconic suffering of a people.” Irene has a different take on the paintings, but the effect is just as cor...

Mar 25 2010 | Read Full Review of Shadow Tag: A Novel

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