Synopses & Reviews
andlt;bandgt;Following her National Book Award finalist, andlt;iandgt;Evidence of Things Unseen,andlt;/iandgt; 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.andlt;/bandgt; andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; andlt;iandgt;The Shadow Catcherandlt;/iandgt; 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. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; 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: andlt;iandgt;"It's got the outdoors. It's got adventure. It's got the do-good element."andlt;/iandgt; 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. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; Were the two men running andlt;iandgt;fromandlt;/iandgt; 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." andlt;iandgt;The Shadow Catcher,andlt;/iandgt; 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.
Following her National Book Award finalist "Evidence of Things Unseen," Wiggins turns her 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.
How a lone manand#8217;s epic obsession led to one of Americaand#8217;s greatest cultural treasures: Prize-winning writer Timothy Egan tells the riveting, cinematic story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history and#8212; and the driven, brilliant man who made them.
andldquo;A vivid exploration of one man's lifelong obsession with an idea . . . Eganandrsquo;s spirited biography might just bring [Curtis] the recognition that eluded him in life.andrdquo; andmdash; Washington Post
Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous portrait photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But when he was thirty-two years old, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continentandrsquo;s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.
Curtis spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance andmdash; ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and he is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.
andldquo;A darn good yarn. Egan is a muscular storyteller and his book is a rollicking page-turner with a colorfully drawn hero.andrdquo; andmdash; San Francisco Chronicle
andquot;A riveting biography of an American original.andquot; andndash; Boston Globe
About the Author
TIMOTHY EGANandnbsp;is a Pulitzer Prizeandndash;winning reporter and the author ofandnbsp;seven books, most recentlyandnbsp;Short Nights of the Shawdow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.andnbsp;His previous books include Theandnbsp;Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award and was named a New York Times Editorsandrsquo; Choice, andandnbsp;The Big Burn:andnbsp;Teddyandnbsp;Roosevelt and theandnbsp;Fire Thatandnbsp;Saved America, aandnbsp;New York Timesandnbsp;bestseller and winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellersandnbsp;Award and the Washington State Book Award.andnbsp;Heandnbsp;is an online op-ed columnist for the New York Times, writing his andquot;Opinionatorandquot; feature once a week. He isandnbsp;a third-generation Westerner andandnbsp;lives in Seattle.
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?