I’m reading “Shadow Tag” the new novel by Louise Erdrich. She’s been writing a long time and I’ve loved her novels, “Love Medicine” and “The Beet Queen”. Now, the new book has me stunned and dismayed. Great writing still—I think. But oh my, “Shadow Tag” is the story of a horrific marriage—one of the worst I think for the sheer meanness and emotional cruelty between husband and wife. It’s been rumored, hinted at and suggested that this book is “about” Erdrich’s own marriage to Michael Dorris. God help them both if there is any truth to that.
For our purposes we need to know that “Shadow Tag” is also the story of a woman alcoholic—and the slow, semi-hidden progression of the disease. One scene in the story describes how the disastrous couple’s youngest child loves to draw pictures of his mother—and the mom notices that he always puts a sparkly globe in her hand –“Look”, she says, showing the child’s drawings to her husband, “He’s giving me a sacred symbol.” And the husband says, pointing to the object the kid has drawn on his mother, “That’s a wine glass; he thinks it’s part of your body.”
This book got me thinking about bad marriages—real and fictional. I know there are some great readers reading this blog so help me out: What are the worst marriages in literature? Is it Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”? Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?
I can’t say you’ll love Louise Erdrich’s new book. But if you want to see—again—what a permanent wine glass on the end of your arm can do to a woman and a marriage take a look at Shadow Tag.