Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Shadow Catcher: A Novel, by Marianne Wiggins

When I read a book like this I wonder how did she do it? How did she come up with the idea, the words? How did she escape sentimentality and embrace such beauty?

The Shadow Catcher is the intertwining of the story of Edward S. Curtis, famed American Indian photographer, and the story of Marianne Wiggins' own hunt for how her own father lived and died. Both the story of Curtis and the story of Wiggins are fictionalized, blending the truth with the maybe-truth, the alternative truth, what might have been, what could have been.

The story of Curtis is certainly about the man who was less a hero of the west than a gifted fame-seeker. It is more, I think, though, about his wife Clara, whose own children abandoned her when she divorced their larger-than-life yet always absent father. The story of Clara is one that so tugged at my heart that I had to stop to catch my breath.

The story of Wiggins' father ultimately becomes the story of the man who refused his own identity and took on another's. Is every story really about someone else?

Toward the end of the book Wiggins answers the question, "what did he do with his life?" by saying he did what all of us do. I'll leave the answer for you to read.

This is book 16 of the 20 I pledged I would read this year from the "notable books" lists. If I had not pledged that I would read twenty I wonder if I would have gotten to this one eventually. If not, I would have missed something really special.

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