The Shadow Catcher

The Shadow Catcher

by Marianne Wiggins

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743265218
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 06/03/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,215,914
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marianne Wiggins is the author of seven books of fiction including John Dollar and Evidence of Things Unseen. She has won an NEA grant, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and she was a National Book Award finalist in fiction for Evidence of Things Unseen.

Hometown:

Los Angeles, California

Date of Birth:

September 8, 1947

Place of Birth:

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Education:

Manheim Township High School, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Read an Excerpt

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

Reading Group Guide

1. Marianne Wiggins's new novel, The Shadow Catcher, centers in part on the life of a real historical figure, Edward Sheriff Curtis. Discuss the unique process of weaving fact and fiction: What difficulties it might pose? What artistic freedoms might emerge?
2. The book features an unusual narrative technique, combining historical fiction with more documentary-style biography and history, as well as a personal narrative that reads like memoir. Why do you think the author chose to tell this story in this way?
3. The chapters in the novel about Edward and Clara are essentially told from Clara's point of view. Is this ultimately more a story about Clara than Edward?
4. The intimate details of a personal relationship that unfolded in the past may not be documented in the way a public life might be. Is love a timeless emotion, or is the feeling influenced by the times in which it occurs?
5. The Edward Curtis presented here is a much more complicated man than the heroic figure that has come down to us through the legacy of his work. How do mythic elements of a human life arise over time?
6. Do you think Edward Curtis's story is a singularly American one?
7. There is a character named "Marianne Wiggins" in The Shadow Catcher who, on the surface, shares much of the history of the actual Marianne Wiggins. When you are reading a novel, does the feeling of making a personal connection with the author add to your experience?
8. In another unusual feature for a novel, The Shadow Catcher is peppered with images - not only some of Edward Curtis's photographs, but photographs from Marianne Wiggins's family and images of historical and personal documents as well. Why do you think the author included these?
9. This is not the first time a photographer has been a central character in one of Marianne Wiggins's novels. Discuss the art of photography as it might relate to fiction.
10. A watchword throughout this novel is "Print the Legend." Why do you think we sometimes cling to our cultural myths in the face of overriding evidence against their truth?
11. Late in the novel Wiggins writes, "How the average person dreams is pretty much how the average novelist puts a page together." Discuss the possible meanings of this statement.
12. Marianne Wiggins was born and raised in the East, lived in Europe for many years, and now lives in California. How might a person come to develop such an obvious passion for a region — in this case the Western landscape — not her original home?

Introduction

1. Marianne Wiggins's new novel, The Shadow Catcher, centers in part on the life of a real historical figure, Edward Sheriff Curtis. Discuss the unique process of weaving fact and fiction: What difficulties it might pose? What artistic freedoms might emerge?

2. The book features an unusual narrative technique, combining historical fiction with more documentary-style biography and history, as well as a personal narrative that reads like memoir. Why do you think the author chose to tell this story in this way?

3. The chapters in the novel about Edward and Clara are essentially told from Clara's point of view. Is this ultimately more a story about Clara than Edward?

4. The intimate details of a personal relationship that unfolded in the past may not be documented in the way a public life might be. Is love a timeless emotion, or is the feeling influenced by the times in which it occurs?

5. The Edward Curtis presented here is a much more complicated man than the heroic figure that has come down to us through the legacy of his work. How do mythic elements of a human life arise over time?

6. Do you think Edward Curtis's story is a singularly American one?

7. There is a character named "Marianne Wiggins" in The Shadow Catcher who, on the surface, shares much of the history of the actual Marianne Wiggins. When you are reading a novel, does the feeling of making a personal connection with the author add to your experience?

8. In another unusual feature for a novel, The Shadow Catcher is peppered with images - not only some of Edward Curtis's photographs, but photographs from Marianne Wiggins's family and images of historical and personal documents aswell. Why do you think the author included these?

9. This is not the first time a photographer has been a central character in one of Marianne Wiggins's novels. Discuss the art of photography as it might relate to fiction.

10. A watchword throughout this novel is "Print the Legend." Why do you think we sometimes cling to our cultural myths in the face of overriding evidence against their truth?

11. Late in the novel Wiggins writes, "How the average person dreams is pretty much how the average novelist puts a page together." Discuss the possible meanings of this statement.

12. Marianne Wiggins was born and raised in the East, lived in Europe for many years, and now lives in California. How might a person come to develop such an obvious passion for a region — in this case the Western landscape — not her original home?

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Shadow Catcher 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
wordbrooklyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There were parts of this book I loved a lot, but the ending seemed a bit too contrived, and I didn't like how the historical part of the book was quickly wrapped up, like there wasn't time to properly close both storylines. I would recommend it though, I really enjoyed the first half or more.
slatta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A terrific book and interesting approach. The only reason I didn't give it give stars is because I didn't love it as much as I did Evidence of Things Unseen.
andafiro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Never would have read her except for my Salman Rushdie fetish, and what a satisfying novel this turned out to be. It was incredibly fast, sweeping, and impeccably crafted. I''m looking forward to reading more of her works, but right now this is the only title available for the Kindle. Boo.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book club January 2010 selection..............What an amazing writer! Marianne Wiggins is able to layer a story so well that the reader is left pondering it long after putting the book down. This story is both historical fiction and memoir, it is about fathers, about the search for identity of a person and a nation, love, marriage, the ties that bind, and the list just keeps on going. On top of that, i think Wiggins writes beautifully, so that it is a pleasure just to take in the words!
msbaba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For two years Marianne Wiggins traveled the country doggedly researching Edward Curtis, the famous and highly controversial American Indian photographer and ethnologist. Wiggins wanted to write a novel about this man. She wanted to get inside him¿understand him, and write a novel that exposed the real human being behind the legend. Curtis¿ life only recently became public domain: he is dead and all his children are dead. Now, he is fair fodder for historical novelists. But Wiggins is not a genre historical novelist. She is a gifted literary novelist, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, a writer of formidable originality. Why would she undertake a project like this? What alchemy did she have in mind? When she began her quest to dig into Curtis¿ life, Wiggins was in love with the idea of the man¿the handsome, creative, rugged, bigger-than-life, self-made frontiersman. But the more she researched, the more she began to dislike him¿the more she wanted to drop the project altogether. But she persisted, and this persistence actually becomes an integral part of the novel. In looking for the story in Curtis, she finds the story in herself, her own life, her own relationship to her father. Wiggins¿ historical novel about Edward Curtis eventually leads us deep into the psychology of magical explaining¿of myth making for mental health¿s sake. The result is pure literary gold. So what alchemy does Wiggins ultimately deliver in this novel? The work is actually two novels in one: one set in Curtis¿ early years and the other set in the author¿s present. The construction is liberating¿pure magic pops up unexpectedly throughout. Wiggins creates a compelling, transcendent, soaring work of fiction. So breathtaking is Wiggins¿ prose, that at times I found myself stopping, closing my eyes, and just savoring the aching perfection of a passage. Here is prose that is sparkling, humorous, ironic, soaring, transcendent¿and yet at the same time it is prose that finds room for snapping social commentary and for me, most enjoyable of all, life-affirming thematic insights. I was spellbound from the first few pages.Wiggins begins her novel in the present day, with herself as the first-person narrator. Wiggins (the character) has written a book about Edward Curtis and her agent arranges an appointment with some Hollywood types who want to option her book for a movie. She arrives home after the interview, to find a series of mysterious messages from a hospital in Las Vegas. They have an unconscious, near-death patient in their ICU who the hospital identifies as Wiggins¿ father. But Wiggins knows that her father unmistakably committed suicide decades earlier. Who is this imposter? Why has he stolen her father¿s identity? Why does he carry a newspaper article about her in his wallet? And so the mystery begins.But in this short opening section, Wiggins also pulls out the stops¿she entertains the reader with a full symphony of literary talents. The overture is a soaring love song to America, the country in her heart, and to Los Angeles, the city in her soul. She follows this with humorous and biting social commentary about the movie-making business. If you read this brief opening section and are not thoroughly won over by this novel¿well, all I can say is that this work is not for you. But it had me from the first page!Enveloped inside this present-day story, we find the other novel. This second novel is presented in two long sections, with a brief visit to the present-day story in between. The inner novel is a third-person narrative written in a completely different tone¿somber, haunting, slow. The focus is full-on characterization. This is prototypical, heart-wrenching, transcendent historical fiction and it tells the early life of Edward Curtis from the point of view of his long-suffering wife, Clara. Through Clara¿s life, from the woman¿s point of view, Wiggins is able to unmask part, but not all, of the man who Curtis was underneath the legend. Clara¿s life with C
tangledthread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
the author tries a different format: introducing photo's into text; fictionalizing her life and the life of historical photographer Edward Curtis.Neither the story or the writing engaged me.
brenzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The semi-historical fictional story of Edward Curtis, famous photographer of Indians west of the Mississippi, that parallels that of the author's father. Beautiful prose, as usual from Wiggins and surprising humor. Excellent read.
THEPRINCESS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my first Marianne Wiggins book and I was delighted. It was complex and nicely wove several stories together. Loved her use of language and descriptions of places and feelings. I'm on to Evidence of Things Unseen.
nicole_a_davis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the story of Edward Curtis, but just as I was really getting into it, it ended. I found other the story of the modern characters tedious and uninteresting. And, the author dropped little tidbits about Curtis which were very interesting and then didn't follow up on the significance of those facts, which was very frustrating. I met the author 6/18/07 at Powell's and she was very kind and very good to listen to--she'd probably make a good professor because she speaks so well, but I don't want to read any more of her books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I tried my hardest to like this book based on the reviews and found myself skimming the last 100 pages just to finish the book. It was good but outstanding.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The First line of this book hooks you. I especially love the thoughts that Ms Wiggins brings into the story of the connections in lives even when you do not know the other person. Very well written and I can't wait to buy it for my own. I read the library copy and encourage everyone to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book because of the picture on the front and after reading the first line, I was hooked. Wiggins weaves together threads of her own life and the life of photographer Edward Curtis in such a way that I found myself wondering what was real and what was fiction. Hmmm, that sounds boring, but trust me--this book is fascinating and after reading it, I bought North American Indian--the book of photos taken by Curtis.
Guest More than 1 year ago
LOVED this book.