This novel 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 if dysfunctional novel.