Thursday, July 18, 2013

Completed: Shadow Tag


As you know, I consider Louise Erdrich to be one of my favorite authors. Despite her recent (and infuriating) foray into quotation-mark-less prose, I still love her work. It's sharp and insightful, but also heartfelt and warm. She manages to perfectly understand and describe the human condition.

This is a short book, one that tells the story of a marriage on the rocks. Gil is a well known artist, but he's most well known for the long series of paintings he's completed over many years of his wife, Irene. Gil and Irene have three kids, and this portrait of their broken marriage is strangely compelling with just the right hint of emotional distance. The narration is split between Gil, Irene, and the kids. In this way, there's no one character pulling us too deeply into the narrative. Their motives are sometimes crystal clear, and other times veiled in levels of obscurity. It's an interesting trick, and so different from her earlier novels, that I found myself wondering what was going on.

One of the things that's interesting about having a beloved author is that you have a tendency to see their style grow and change, but there's also those authors that get stuck in a rut. Every single one of Erdrich's previous novels have been generational family sagas of Ojibwa Indians, almost always with strong ties to the reservation. I enjoyed those stories, I loved them! But this book and her most recent, The Round House, have been very different. The focus is on a single family in a single generation, and The Round House has a single narrator rather than many. In this case, the tight focus on Gil and Irene makes for a claustrophobic and intense read: these are unhappy and troubled people, and being privy to their split is wrenching.

I did like this book, though. One thing that I was struggling with was that the characters felt emotionally distant in a weird way, or maybe I should say weird for Erdrich. Of course, there was the annoying lack of quotation marks. But even more than that, it just felt like I wasn't quite in their heads the way I was with previous characters. Lo and behold, it turns out that the story is being written by their daughter many years later. Of course, this conveniently explains the lack of quotation marks because the daughter is remembering or imagining what they might have said to each other. But is also explains the distance, in some ways the daughter is unable to imagine what her parents must have been thinking. She's guessing, hoping, or assuming.

All in all, this was a satisfying read. I left the book at home, but I might go back and add some to this later. There were lots of lines I marked to share with you!



  1. Other than Round House, I have not read any of Erdrich's books. I'm sure I've asked you this before, so forgive my repeat but... do you have a favorite of hers that you would recommend?

    Also, I notice that you're looking for/giving some sort of "explanation" for the no quotation marks again (in RH, it was also the unreliable/child narrator's potential "false memory") but... it may just be that LE is done with quotation marks and it doesn't mean anything other than she's just decided they're extraneous. Right? Have you ever seen an interview with her or anything discussing it? (I just googled her name and quotation marks and your rant was the 2nd hit -- ha!) I guess you'll find out with her next book, right?

    Maybe you should write to her and ask...

  2. Maybe I just want to give Erdrich the benefit of the doubt on this*, but I really think it's her trying to justify it, I do. Writers like McCarthy just fucking leave them out and oh, well! Heh.

    I had joked at one point about writing to her, but honestly, it seems like a serious breach of the writer/reader wall. Perhaps this is from my job: when frustrated with a book, my students often want to "get the right answer" from the author. But realistically, most authors resist those types of questions...AS THEY SHOULD. It's not her job to pat the hand of every one of her readers, to whisper her secrets in our ears. She's the writer and gets to write what she wants. I'm the reader and I get to read, interpret, and think about her writing the way that I want.

    As a thought experiment: Let's say that I did write to her with my problem, and that she was kind enough to respond. Would she ever be able to provide me with an answer that I embrace to the point where I could feel okay with this punctuation choice? Honestly, no. It drives me bonkers. I notice it on EVERY page, and that bugs me. Much like brussels sprouts, I'm always going to find that leaves me disappointed and with a bad taste in my mouth.

    I guess I'll be curious to see what she does with her next book...when I can GET IT FROM THE LIBRARY BECAUSE I SURE WON'T PAY FOR IT. I realize that I am fruitlessly drawing a line in the sand over something dumb. But I don't really care.

    *I need a name for no quotation marks. QMF: quotation mark free? QuotationMcCarthyism: sort of a political joke rolled in there? AAF: Annoying As Fuck?

  3. QMF. In polite company, you can say the F stands for "Free." But you and I will know the truth: It's Quotation Mark Fuckery.

  4. Off topic, but we've discussed the pBook vs eBook pricing so often, it seems like this would be of interest: