Louise Erdich: Shadow Tag

When Irene America discovers that her artist 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 marriage, while turning her Red Diary—hidden where Gil will find it—into a manipulative charade. As Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children, their home becomes a place of increasing violence and secrecy. And Irene drifts into alcoholism, moving ever closer to the ultimate destruction of a relationship filled with shadowy need and strange ironies.

Alternating between Irene’s twin journals and an unflinching third-person narrative, Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and the anatomy of one family’s struggle for survival and redemption.

Marriage can be a toxic place. We go into it with such intense hopes and dreams, but for so many of us, it doesn’t end up the way we thought it would. Whether it is the expectations we place on ourselves, or the extreme addiction love can be–sometimes you just can’t leave, even when we know we should.

No one but the couple really knows what goes on inside that marriage–and sometimes even the two parties have different interpretations of the situation. Shadow Tag dives deep into one such toxic relationship. If we were to only look at one person’s perspective, we might see it as only physically abusive, or alternatively, emotionally abusive. Erdrich gives us both sides, and so we see the intense tug of war that is being played. Both parties are predator and prey, abuser and victim. There is no saving this marriage, we know that from the beginning, but how will it end?

This struck a nasty chord in me right away and I almost didn’t continue. I still feel a little seasick after finishing this tumultuous novel. It’s powerful, certainly, and Erdrich is a storyteller that grabs your arm and doesn’t let go.

She is also one of our more well-known Native American authors. This book is #OwnVoices, and there are concerns in this book that those of us outside of indigenous culture do not face. It only adds another edge to that toxic weapon of a destructive relationship, at least in this instance.

Erdrich’s story certainly gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t really care much for Round House, which I read a few months ago, but Shadow Tag left a deep impression on my heart. I highly recommend it for fans of adult literary fiction. Make sure to add this #OwnVoices book to your TBR!

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Louise Erdrich: The Round House

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

When I mentioned to a Twitter friend that I haven’t read much Native American fiction, she recommended Louise Erdrich, among others. I found I’d had some of her books already on my TBR, I just didn’t realize she was an #OwnVoices author! Well, of course she had to make the list for this month.

The Round House covers some intense topics. Rape is an extreme danger to Native American women–1 out of every 3 will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (per the author’s note). Erdrich shows just how horrifying that experience can be. Not only are their attackers usually non-native men, but the victims also receive prejudices from law enforcement and hospitals.

“Don’t you Indians have your own hospital over there?”

UGH. Doesn’t that just make your skin crawl? It did mine. I wanted to climb into the pages and smack a bitch.

I did struggle quite a bit to connect to this book. I’m never a huge fan of dialogue-heavy books that don’t use quotation marks–I find that writing style hard to follow. What is speech and what is not? But I don’t think that was really the issue. I think I was just distracted. The last few days have been really news-packed and so it has been hard to pull my eyes away from the Twitterfeed. That is never conducive to heavy reading. Plus, I’ve read some very hard hitters right in a row. This may have to be a book I come back to in a few years and see if I feel differently. For now, though, not my favorite. I still have a few of her books on my list and we’ll see if I have a more positive reaction.

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