The Shadow Catcher: A Novel

The Shadow Catcher: A Novel

4.6 9
by Marianne Wiggins

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Following her National Book Award finalist, Evidence of Things Unseen, Marianne Wiggins turns her extraordinary literary imagination to the American West, where the life of legendary photographer Edward S. Curtis is the basis for a resonant exploration of history and family, landscape and legacy.

The Shadow Catcher dramatically inhabitsSee more details below


Following her National Book Award finalist, Evidence of Things Unseen, Marianne Wiggins turns her extraordinary literary imagination to the American West, where the life of legendary photographer Edward S. Curtis is the basis for a resonant exploration of history and family, landscape and legacy.

The Shadow Catcher dramatically inhabits the space where past and present intersect, seamlessly interweaving narratives from two different eras: the first fraught passion between turn-of-the-twentieth-century icon Edward Curtis (1868-1952) and his muse-wife, Clara; and a twenty-first-century journey of redemption.

Narrated in the first person by a reimagined writer named Marianne Wiggins, the novel begins in Hollywood, where top producers are eager to sentimentalize the complicated life of Edward Curtis as a sunny biopic: "It's got the outdoors. It's got adventure. It's got the do-good element." Yet, contrary to Curtis's esteemed public reputation as servant to his nation, the artist was an absent husband and disappearing father. Jump to the next generation, when Marianne's own father, John Wiggins (1920-1970), would live and die in equal thrall to the impulse of wanderlust.

Were the two men running from or running to? Dodging the false beacons of memory and legend, Marianne amasses disparate clues -- photographs and hospital records, newspaper clippings and a rare white turquoise bracelet -- to recover those moments that went unrecorded, "to hear the words only the silent ones can speak." The Shadow Catcher, fueled by the great American passions for love and land and family, chases the silhouettes of our collective history into the bright light of the present.

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Editorial Reviews

Wendy Smith
There are passages in Marianne Wiggins's eighth novel so piercingly beautiful that I put the book down, shook my head and simply said, "Wow." She's reproduced a number of photographs in her text -- appropriately, since her subject is a photographer -- but these physical images pale in comparison to the pictures she creates with words.
— The Washington Post
Richard B. Woodward
Wiggins seems to be writing her own psycho-history here. (The book is dedicated to her daughter, Lara Porzak, a photographer.) But if the novel fails to integrate all the cosmic elements she summons up � her digressions on maps, aerial perspective, Western land rights and Los Angeles traffic are strained � Wiggins ably challenges the smug idea that we can easily distinguish truth and falsehood in telling anyone�s story, especially our own. Fictive memoir? Fact-based novel? I don�t care what she calls this book. I�ll gladly read it again.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Wiggins (Evidence of Things Unseen, etc.) takes a magnificently Sebald-like approach to fictionalizing the life of photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952)-along with that of a woman named "Marianne Wiggins." The book opens as Wiggins presents her newly completed Curtis novel to a Hollywood agent. Curtis photographed American Indians in the early 20th century, and Marianne attacks the common image of Curtis as a swashbuckler who risked his life to photograph his favorite subjects. Even as she shows that Curtis staged the shots, and was an absentee husband and father at best, the agent is enthralled. Marianne, ambivalent, arrives home to a phone call that her father is in a Las Vegas hospital-the father who has been dead for 30 years. From that quick setup, the novel moves seamlessly back and forth between Marianne's painstaking research into Curtis's life and the journey she undertakes seeking closure with her father's past. Photographs taken by Curtis and from the Wiggins's family album, which she approaches from multiple angles, give the story several layers of immediacy. Curtis emerges as a fascinating, complex figure, one who inhabited any number of American contradictions. Suffused with Marianne's crackling social commentary and deceptively breezy self-discovery, Wiggins's eighth novel is a heartfelt tour de force. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The New York Times

"Marianne Wiggins has...a passion to hurl herself into a continental unknown, to seek, misstep, recover and push on, while noticing every blade of grass along the way...the mark of a true epic endeavor."

The Boston Globe

"The author can make you weep in a single sentence...The events and relationships are rendered on the page with an immediacy that catches you up short."

The Sunday Times

"Marianne Wiggins does not so much tell a story as make her reader live it...She renews our sense of what prose fiction can do."

-- (London)

Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Wiggins writes with a feverish brilliance...close to prophetic brilliance."

The New York Times Book Review

"Wiggins is a writer of substantial gifts."

The Washington Post Book World

"Marianne Wiggins dares to make fictions that stand in the face of heart-cracking circumstance, fictions that, in fact, resound with hearts shattering."

Library Journal
The incomparable Wiggins fictionalizes the life of photographer Edward Curtis. Given how tellingly she wrote about light and photography in Evidence of Things Unseen, this should be good. With an eight-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wiggins (Evidence of Things Unseen, 2003, etc.) takes on real-life American photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis. The author braids the stories of Curtis, whose photos of Native Americans and the western landscape shaped the region's mythology; his long-suffering wife, Clara; and a present-day writer, "Marianne Wiggins," who's summoned to a Las Vegas hospital to see the dying "father" whom she knows to be an imposter because her dad hanged himself decades earlier. Incorporated into the text are photographic images taken by the mysterious, obsessive Curtis, famed for his pictures of grave, brooding Indians posed in ceremonial dress-funeral portraits of a dying race, he called them. Especially poignant is the plight of Clara, who manages the household and raises their children virtually alone (the youngest goes 18 years without seeing her father). Yet when she finally sues for divorce, the children side with Curtis, choosing the mythical god over the disciplinarian. Wiggins intercuts the story of the writer/narrator's own absent father. The novel can seem diffuse-neither storyline is explored as fully as it might be-but the stratagem pays off in bravura passages like the one in which Wiggins riffs her way from ethnic roadside restaurants to gods of Greek myth to the American cult of celebrity . . . and in the process forges an emotional link between narrative lines. An ambitious, lively work, though its fragments don't coalesce perfectly.

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Simon & Schuster
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Let me tell you about the sketch by Leonardo I saw one afternoon in the Queen's Gallery in London a decade ago, and why I think it haunts me. The Queen's Gallery is on the west front side of Buckingham Palace, on a street that's always noisy, full of taxis rushing round the incongruous impediment of a massive residence in the middle of a route to Parliament and Westminster Abbey and, more importantly, a train station named Victoria. The Queen's Gallery is small, neither well maintained nor adequately lit, and when I went there to see the Royal Collection of Da Vinci drawings, the day was pissing rain and cold and damp, and the room smelled of wet wool seasoned in the lingering aroma of fry-up and vinegar, an atmosphere far removed from the immediacy, muscularity, and sunny beauty of Da Vinci's subjects. There were drawings of male adolescents, drawings of chubby infants, drawings of rampant horses, toothless women, old men with spiky white hairs on their noses and boils on their chins -- and then, in a corner, there was a different kind of sketch, a map. It was drawn in ochre on a sheet of rough, uneven rag approximately the size of ordinary letter paper, the same color as southern California sandstone. I stood in front of it for something like too long because a guard stepped forward 'til I leaned away, still looking at it, mesmerized. Some things you remember for a lifetime; other things, mysteriously, bleed away, or fade to shadow. Sometimes, you try to bring the memory of something back, and can't. You try to see a face, recapture love, recapture rapture; but it's gone, that face, that vibrancy. Other images return without your bidding. Almost every night when I'm at home, alone, in bed, before I fall asleep, my mind presents that sketch of Leonardo's without warning. Onto that inner space where dreams take place, my mind projects its image. I see it, plain as day -- a little piece of sandstone-colored paper on which an Italian coastal town is drawn from a perspective high above the ground, so high that no treetop, no cliff, no man-made promontory could have served as Leonardo's point of view. It's the view an airplane affords, a view Da Vinci must have drawn from an imaginary self-projection; and judging from the scale of things, he must have been imagining himself ten thousand feet above the ground, or almost two miles up. Commercial airline pilots volunteer this kind of information -- altitude and cruising speed -- which is how I've learned to estimate how high above the ground I am, looking from an airplane window. I've learned what the Earth looks like from a great height -- but how did Leonardo know? Are we hardwired, as a species, to imagine flying? We take it for granted now, most of us, this point of view, as a second site, because many of us have flown, many of us have been up there, and, even if we haven't, most of us have seen the pictures of our world as a distant object, beamed to Earth by satellite. We can adopt this point of view as a modern way of looking, but is it modern? What if there's something in our psyches designed to see things from above? Isn't it a possibility that, as humans, we were built to dream from heights? That Columbus dreamed of flying to America, dreamed his future landfall from above? That Lewis and Clark, bedding down on rocky ground, flew at night across the Cascade Mountains in their dreams, above sequoias, over the Columbia, toward the valiant coast to the magnificent Pacific? Maybe we are built to reconnoiter from above, survey the Earth from heaven, dream of flying. Maybe it's the angel in us. Gertrude Stein, the first time she flew, saw in Earth's crevasses and folds the antecedents of cubism and told Picasso that he'd stolen that artistic vision off the backs of birds. I want to think that Galileo flew, in thought. I want to think that all the peasants in the fields of history dreamed in flight, that all the slaves and all indentured souls whose dust still gathers on this Earth had wings at night, and aspirations swift enough for uplift. I want to believe we're built for soaring in our thoughts, and out here on the edge, in California, at night, in that fading wakefulness before sleep erases sight, my mind projects that sketch of Leonardo's, and then, before I realize it, I'm flying in, flying to America, making landfall on this continent, not from over the Pacific, not from Singapore or Australia, Fiji or Hawaii on routes I've flown in real airplanes, but I dream I'm coming in across the other ocean, over the Atlantic, like Columbus. Flying in, not as I've done from England and Europe in a jumbo jet with Greenland off the starboard side, down the Scotia coast with Halifax below, but flying in and making my first contact off the Carolina coast near the 37th meridian, where the English landed, equidistant from the Catholic French in Canada and the Spanish Jesuits in Florida. I dream I'm flying in across Cape Hatteras, where that little spit of land cricks around Pamlico Sound, where the Tuscarora were. Where the Tuscarora fished and lived and danced and laughed and loved before the measles and the smallpox took them. Here in California, on the edge, at night, after the coyotes end their braying, there's an hour after midnight when a silence drops into these canyons which persists 'til the first birdsong of morning, and, in that intervening lull, I give myself to flying in, west from Tuscarora marshland over Choctaw sands and Chickasaw meadows -- I project myself speeding toward myself -- flying, as the eagle flies, over Creek, Catawba, Natchez, Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache, Wichita and Zuni, Navajo and Hopi, above the First and Second Mesas, over Acoma and Chaco Canyon, across the Colorado toward the Paiute, Chumash and Morongo, here, where I am in Los Angeles. There are those who say the sound my country makes at night, the sound I hear when flying, the sound my nation exhales as it sleeps, is the sound of prayer, the sound of Jesus Christ arising from the basalt in the Rockies, splitting hearts of granite as he shakes off chains of time and is reborn, and there are those who claim the sound my nation makes at night is the metallic hiss of money in the forge or the sound of slavery's jism misspent in anger and assimilation, or that the sound my nation makes is the sizzle of cosmetic simulation, the sound the cutting edge of surgical removal makes, the sound of History slipping into coma, cosmic silence, almost total, through which, in my dream of flying, I perceive a hopeful distant note -- the sound my country makes -- a note so confirming and annunciatory that it seems to bend into itself, bend into its own impending future like an announcing angel comin' round the mountain, bend the way a shadow bends, conforming to the curvature of Earth, wailing gently through the night. That sound is the siren's sound of the iron road, a haunting whistle. I fly, in my imagination, over the abandoned Plains, the Rockies, and the ghost Mojave -- toward myself, toward home -- and, turning in my bed, I hear it. Out here on the edge, in California, turning in my bed, the nation at my back, I hear a single note, heralding arrival. The sound of a train whistle. The sound my country makes. And I feel safe.

Copyright © 2007 by Marianne Wiggins

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