Sunday, May 9, 2010

Shadow Tag - Louise Endrich

The premise of this book intrigued me. A woman, Irene, keeps a journal (her red diary). One day she realizes that her husband has been reading it. And so she chooses to continue writing in that journal, albeit with deceptive and misleading entries, while also beginning her new real journal (the blue notebook). Had the story of Irene's disintegrating marriage, the turmoil of raising three children while obtaning her PhD, and her losing battle with alcohol been told exclusively through the two journals, I think this would have made for a very interesting read. Instead, I felt as if Erdrich simply used the journals as gimmicky device to pull the reader in, and then somewhat abandoned that narrative in exchange for a rambling disjointed story. The reviews for this book have been overwhelmingly positive, but for me, there was just too much going on that seemed forced and contrived - and not just because the basic premise is Irene's manipulation of her husband Gil through her writing. Gil himself is a painter of Native American imagery - often using his own wife as his subject and placing her in compromising and degrading positions. The portrait of their marriage as so irretrievably broken comes through from the first pages (from Gil's initial decision to read Irene's diary - and the fact that her diary contains so much animosity toward him), and it spirals out of control until the end. This book is bleak, depressing, and wholly unenjoyable. To the extent that is the book Erdrich set out to write, she has certainly succeeded. To the extent I thought I would ever read any of her other twelve or so novels, I think I'll probably take a pass.

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