Erdrich is, without a doubt, a magical writer. She weaves words into images and emotions as exquisitely as her Native-American ancestors wove colourful tales into their blankets.
Unfortunately, ‘Shadow Tag’ has a dark edge to it that’s not to my taste. When I think of ‘The Painted Drum’, ‘The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No-Horse’ or ‘The Master Butcher’s Singing Club’, I remember stories that wrung my emotions but left me with a sense of hope; a sliver of illumination that highlighted the essential strength and courage of her characters despite their very human flaws.
In ‘Shadow Tag’, a story about a disintegrating marriage, the love/hate relationship between Gil (an artistic genius)and Irene (his wife and model) has too dark an edge. Irene has a spitefulness, too, that I disliked, but Gil was by no means her innocent victim. Emotionally stunted, his art his only real passion, Gil was only slightly more sympathetic than Irene.
I finished this book compulsively, as I do all of Erdrich’s books, simply because her adroit use of words, her evocative imagery and the raw emotion of her characters makes for compulsive reading. But a melancholy has lingered in my heart, because ‘Shadow Tag’ is an unrelentingly grim story.
ADDING IN LATER: I suspect there may be more to this novel than I first realised. I wonder if the relationship between Irene as model, humiliated by Gil as artist, is representative of the experience of the Native American Indian under the colonising whites, who humilated and ultimately destroyed much of the traditions of the Native American tribale cultures? Hmmm. I think this book is deeper than I first thought. I'll have to read it again at a later date.