Book Review: Shadow Tag

The image is not the person, she thought, or even the shadow of a person. So how can a person be harmed by the depiction, even appropriation, of something as intangible as one’s image?

Shadow Tag has been on my TBR ever since I did the Diverse Books Tag. I hadn’t read anything by Louise Erdrich before, and after being told by many other bloggers, that I simply must, I eventually did end up reading her on World Indigenous People’s Day this year.


The plot revolves around the failing marriage of Irene America and her husband Gil (both of Native American heritage). Gil’s success is due to a series of paintings he has made of his wife in which she is posed in ways that are violent/humiliating and reminiscent of the mistreatment of Native Americans by the whites. The constant sense of voyeurism that this provokes has driven Irene to alcoholism and made her desperate to leave a marriage which she feels is suffocating. She wants to “shed the weight of Gil’s eyes,” as she puts it. Gil on the other hand reacts to her pulling away with possessiveness and suspicion that she is having an affair. When Irene discovers that he is reading her diary, she uses it as a tool to manipulate him into letting her go. She also simultaneously starts another diary, in which she records the truth and keeps it locked away in a bank vault. This constant, dark back and forth between husband and wife spills over on to their children : Florian, who copes using drugs; Riel who develops some sort of paranoia/anxiety and becomes a survivalist determined to protect her family; and toddler Stoney.

There is a theme of self-destructiveness that runs throughout the book: be it Irene’s drinking and manipulation, Gil’s obsessiveness, Florian’s drug use or Riel’s constant imagining of disasters. There is the sense of breaking something intentionally; a masochistic delight in the breaking.

This idea of self-destructiveness is juxtaposed with the willful and cruel destruction of others. When the book begins, Irene is studying the work of George Catlin,”19th century painter of Native Americana.” The narrative is littered with tales of how the subjects of Catlin’s paintings succumbed to illness and death soon after being painted. It is easy for the reader to draw parallels between Catlin’s paintings and Gil’s paintings. There is violence between the characters in heaps–from child abuse to marital rape. There is no tenderness, no true moment of kindness–and not for want of trying. There are moments when it seems like the couple might be friends, but this is soured quickly.

It s a harsh, cruel landscape that is painted into the reader’s eyes. So definitely a bunch of trigger warnings for those who wish to read this book.

Even the writing seems sharp and jagged, and I couldn’t help feeling that these words were physically giving me a multitude of paper cuts. The imagery throughout the book extends the idea of coldness and alienation. The pacing is quick, clipped and evocative of something steadily moving towards the edge of the cliff. One is sure the great fall is coming, one is just not sure when it will come.

And yet, when the end came, I wondered why I did not anticipate it. What is left over is bittersweet; a feeling that one has just been through a great storm and somehow survived.

I borrowed this book from my local library and chose to review it without any request for the same on the part of the publisher/author.

Author Bio:


14 thoughts on “Book Review: Shadow Tag

  1. I’m so glad you got a chance to read a book you discovered in the Diverse Books Tag! I will eventually read Shadow Tag, but I’m curious to see how it ties in with the rest of her novels, since they are all loosely connected. Shadow Tag is one of her most recent works, published in 2010, so I won’t be reading it for a long time because after “LaRose” I will start from the very beginning with “Love Medicine,” which was published in 1984!

    This was a great review, as always. You gave such a wonderful description of the writing style and the pacing of the book. Such beautiful writing ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Naz! I had no idea that her books were loosely connected. Now I’m even more intrigued. I’m not reading her books in order, but maybe I should.


  2. Your reviews are always so insightful and make me either want to read the book or avoid it completely. In this case, I really want to read it. it sounds like it’ll be a difficult but worthy read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I can say the same about your reviews 😊 I really did like this book. It is disturbing to see something go so bad, but it is a great read!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is beautiful, beautiful writing 😊 I’ve heard that Shadow Tag is a bit different from her other books, but I’m not in a position to compare. I liked this and am looking forward to reading other books by her.


  3. Wow, Vijayalakshmi, that was a beautiful review! It was downright poetic! I’ve been reading quite a few reviews of L.E. lately (apparently other people had the same idea!), but this is the only book that has appealed to me thus far. I’ll see if my library has it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, reading the book descriptions, this is the book that caught my eye too. But now I’m looking forward to reading her other books too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t read Erdrich yet, but this is such a beautifully worded and thoughtful review I’m eager to read Shadow Tag now. It sounds like a challenging and, in places, brutal story. I love your description of the words giving you papercuts.


  5. Such a great review!! This one sounds as amazing and important as her other writing, but you definitely make me want to ut it on top of the tbr! I need to read more of her books, since I loved The Round House.

    Liked by 1 person

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