Booklist Reviews 2009 October #2
*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. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2010 January #1
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[Page 90]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
LJ Reviews 2009 October #2
Famed artist Gil paints -intimate and ultimately intrusive portraits of his wife, Irene, who is further shocked to discover that he is secretly reading her diary and starts filling it with lies. Erdrich goes for psychological drama; I'm eager to see this. With a 150,000-copy first printing. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
PW Reviews 2009 November #1
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.)[Page 32]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.