Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Erdrich steps out of the deep river of her great Native American saga, last manifest in The Plague of Doves (2008), and into a feverish drama of a marriage and household in peril. The intensity of this exquisite, character-driven tale, its searing efficiency in encompassing the painful legacy of the Native American genocide, and its piercing insights into sex, family, and power are breathtaking. Irene America, of Ojibwe descent, hopes to complete her doctorate in history in spite of the demands of her volatile painter husband, Gil, and their three children: sons Florian, a secretive math prodigy, and gentle little Stoney, and daughter Riel, named after Louis Riel, a Metis resistance leader. Irene's subject is the nineteenth-century artist George Catlin, whose portraits of Native Americans raise disturbing questions about exploitation. As do Gil's erotic paintings of Irene, icons of violation born of his maniacal possessiveness, violent rage, and paranoia. Once Irene, who is drinking heavily, realizes that Gil is reading her diary, she begins writing entries calculated to push him to the brink. As their domestic civil war escalates, Irene remembers her mother's stories about how a soul can be captured through a shadow, a vision with profound implications in this masterfully concentrated and gripping novel of image and conquest, autonomy and love, inheritance and loss.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Erdrich's bleak latest (after The Plague of Doves) chronicles the collapse of a family. Irene America is a beautiful, introspective woman of Native American ancestry, struggling to finish her dissertation while raising three children. She is married to Gil, a painter whose reputation is built on a series of now iconic portraits of Irene, but who can't break through to the big time, pigeonholed as a Native American painter. Irene's fallen out of love with Gil and discovers that he's been reading her diary, so she begins a new, hidden, diary and uses her original diary as a tool to manipulate Gil. Erdrich deftly alternates between excerpts from these two diaries and third-person narration as she plots the emotional war between Irene and Gil, and Gil's dark side becomes increasingly apparent as Irene, fighting her own alcoholism, struggles to escape. Erdrich ties her various themes together with an intriguing metaphor-riffing on Native American beliefs about portraits as shadows and shadows as souls-while her steady pacing and remarkable insight into the inner lives of children combine to make this a satisfying and compelling novel. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Irene America is a smart, beautiful Minneapolis Ojibwe. Too distracted to finish her doctoral degree, she musters the emotional resources needed to keep two journals. The "Red Diary" is bait, filled with adulterous scenes that Irene uses to push volatile artist husband Gil close enough to the brink that he'll leave her. She unleashes all her rage and frustration in the "Blue Notebook," which she keeps in a bank deposit box. Meanwhile, Gil believes that his obsessive graphic paintings of Irene will somehow lure her back to him. Caught in the crosshairs of their parents' cruel, messy unraveling are 13-year-old Florian, a genius who models his mother's excessive drinking habits; Riel, 11, who believes that only she can hold her disintegrating family together; and sunny little Stoney. VERDICT Erdrich's latest is a brilliant cautionary tale of the shocking havoc willfully destructive, self-centered spouses wreak not only upon themselves but also upon their children. Reading it is like watching a wildfire whose flames are so mesmerizingly beautiful that it's almost easy to ignore the deadly mess left behind. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Taking a risky leap, Erdrich sets aside the magical-realist style of her many volumes about the Ojibwes (The Red Convertible, 2008 etc.) to write a domestic tragedy set among sophisticated, assimilated, highly educated and successful Native Americans. Gil and Irene live with their kids Florian, Riel and Stony in a seemingly idyllic home in Minneapolis. Gil is a renowned painter, Irene the subject of his graphically revealing portraits. Also a gifted historian, she is currently doing research for her doctorate dissertation about the painter George Catlin. Self-consciously aware of their heritage, Gil (raised in poverty by his white mother after his Native American father's death in Vietnam) and Irene (given a middle-class upbringing by her AIM activist mother) know that observers consider them an iconic couple. But Gil has a habit of brutalizing the children he cherishes, and Irene cannot relinquish the glass of wine always in her hand to protect them. When Irene realizes that Gil has been reading her diary, she feels her soul has been invaded. She begins writing entries to play with his mind, torturing him about an affair he imagines she is having. Obsessed with his love for Irene, Gil thinks that he wants to save the marriage. Irene thinks that she wants to free herself from Gil. Both are lying to themselves. Erdrich's unsparing prose dissects these two deeply flawed characters to show their ugliest selves, yet she allows them each their moments of joy and spiritual respite alone, together and with their children. Into this deeply personal novel about marriage, family and individual identity, she also weaves broader questions about cause and effect in historyspecifically the effect Catlin's painting of Native Americans had on them and on himthat resonate within her characters' lives. Readers familiar with Erdrich's personal life may suspect she has written close to the bone here, but she manages the rare achievement of rising above the facts she has incorporated to create a small masterpiece of compelling, painfully moving fiction. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.