Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

This blog is actually a reincarnation of a project I did in college for a web design class. I had to design my own website for a topic of my choice and so I created a book & movie review site of the same name as this one. I plan on re-posting at least two of those book reviews on here at some point, so here is the first of them, in full, with only a few minor formatting changes.

Louise Erdrich's stunning novel, Shadow Tag, portrays the disintegration of a marriage and a family through a series of diary entries, sprinkled throughout a gripping third person narrative. The story unfolds as Irene America discovers that her husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, and decides to keep two, in order to manipulate him. 

The first, the red diary, is the one he reads, and thus the one she uses to control him. She writes small enticing bits of information here in order to throw him for a loop, like "I think I'm going to lose my mind over what I'm doing". Gil agonizes over phrases like this throughout the whole book, convinced that there is another man in Irene's life, and she relishes in his agony. 

In the other diary, the blue diary, we get Irene's real thoughts and feelings - the truth, or some version of it. Were it not for the straight forward third person narration, the reader might get lost in Irene's world. The narrator saves us from the chaos that Irene eventually falls down into.

Erdrich's writing is highly effectual and though the tone of the novel is slightly eerie the characters are not so spooky that they seem unreal. Irene and Gil's tragic love story, while clearly not healthy for either of them, plays out as you expect it should. Irene is angry with Gil and unhappy in their marriage but cannot bear the thought of life without him. Even as he has given up on himself, there is still something that she sees in him, something that renders her unable to give him up for her children in the end. In all truth the children don't do so badly on their own. Their parents' unhappy marriage prepared them for life on their own; they learned to take care of each other so that when the time came they would survive.

Shadow Tag by no means has a happy ending. It is eerie and ominous until the very end, and it will leave you with a sense of wonder at the things that love will make a person do. This book will leave you with a weight on your shoulders that can only be lifted by reading it again. It is at times uncomfortable, scary and baffling, but it is a great read and definitely worth every minute. 

You can read more reviews of Shadow Tag here
Have you read Shadow Tag? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Incendiary by Chris Cleave

Normally when I pick a book up off the shelf in a bookstore, I read the summary on the back and some of the nice things that people say about it if they're readily available on the inside cover. If it sounds interesting, I buy it. Otherwise, I wait until someone recommends it or I've seen it so many times that I can't stand not having read it anymore.

Incendiary is one of the few books that I picked up and turned to the first page immediately; I had already heard a lot of good things about it but the summary on the back cover didn't tell me what I wanted to know.

I was hooked from the first sentence: "Dear Osama they want you dead or alive so the terror will stop." I was on page 5 when someone passed through my field of vision and I was forced to remember that I was still at the store and hadn't purchased the book yet. That's the kind of book it is.

Why is it so captivating? For a lot of reasons, frankly. The story is told through the voice of a woman who has suffered an immense loss at the hands of a terrorist attack on London. The book is framed as her plea to Osama bin Laden to stop the attacks so that no one else has to go through the pain she has suffered.

The collective trauma and general fear that engulfed America after the 9/11 attacks are here embodied in the mind of one British woman. Though we see signs in her narrative of the collective fear and the measurements the government takes to ensure national security, the narrator herself is incapable of seeing past her own pain and realizing that she is not the only one hurt by these events. It is not selfishness but PTSD that causes this single-mindedness so as readers we are swept into her grief rather than disinterested in it.

This is a book that asks the reader to care about the characters and then gives her reason to. The first person narrative gives the full scope of the main character so it is possible to see all sides of her and also worry about what will happen to her. But even as she tells of the horrible things that other characters have done to her and each other, we can see their motivations and worry about them too.

Jasper Black starts off as a lover with morals askew and transforms into some form of humanoid monster. That is, his motivations come from a very human place but his actions go far past the line of sanity. Still, we care for him in the way that we care for loved ones we can't help -- sadly watching from afar as their lives spiral downward, desperately wishing there was something we could do.

Cleave's writing skills shine in this novel; his first no less. He brings out nearly every emotion in the reader. It is a beautiful story of loss and grief. Incendiary explores the places we go as humans to recover from that depth of grief and attempts to help us figure out how to rebuild from there.

You can read more about the book here: Incendiary

Have you read this book? Did you like it as much as I did? Tell me your thoughts in the comments!