Book Review: Louise Erdrich's 'Shadow Tag'

Shadow Tag is a new novel about domestic tragedy written by Louise Erdrich. The best-selling author is no stranger to tragedy of the domestic kind herself. Alan Cheuse reviews Erdrich's deeply personal tale about marriage and family.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

If the tabloids and nightly cable TV lineups are any indication, Americans are fascinated with failed marriages. After her own difficult divorce, novelist Louise Erdrich writes about a very difficult marriage in her new novel "Shadow Tag."

And our reviewer Alan Cheuse says the novel makes him just a tad uncomfortable.

ALAN CHEUSE: Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors. That's the way the country song about the secrets of marriage would have it. In her new novel, Minnesota writer Louise Erdrich opens those doors. Her marriage to writer Michael Dorris ended in a frenzy of accusations of adultery and child abuse. Dorris eventually committed suicide.

In "Shadow Tag," Erdrich creates scenes from a fictional marriage, that of two American Indians, Irene and her painter husband Gil, that suggest some of the worst psychological torments and stresses of real life.

Gil's project is to paint Irene in pose after pose after pose: clothed, naked, from above, from behind, up close and at a distance. He makes his reputation from this work while driving Irene and their three children to the edge of despair. Does he stay or does he go? The question overshadows everything that happens in the novel.

The title speaks to their tormented back and forth. Irene sees it as similar to a game played in the snow after dark under street lamps in which the goal is to step on each other's shadow.

As the marriage lurches to a terrible ending, Erdrich shifts point of view from Irene to Gil to the children. The reader is left to ponder the misery of knowing a lot about a mystery some folks would say is better left unspoken.

SIEGEL: The novel is "Shadow Tag" by Louise Erdrich. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

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