The Shadow Catcher

Written by Marianne Wiggins
Review by Gerald T. Burke

The story opens in present-day Los Angeles. The fictional writer of a novel about Edward Curtis is meeting with Hollywood executives who are interested in buying rights to produce a movie based on the book. Because Curtis is famous as a photographer of Native Americans, they want to give the film a decidedly upbeat Western spin and present Curtis as a selfless folk hero. The novel then begins to oscillate between two distinct yet parallel narratives: one focused on the present, and one focused on Curtis during his own time (1868-1952).

In the present-day narrative, Marianne Wiggins (the fictional author has the same name as the actual author) goes on a search for her presumed long-dead father after receiving a phone call from a Las Vegas hospital saying that he was dying there and she was listed as next of kin. In the Curtis narrative, Wiggins (the actual author) creates a detailed portrait of his erratic and often contradictory life. Apparently both Curtis and the fictional Wiggins’s father suffered from the compelling need to unexpectedly wander from their families for long periods of time.

Wiggins (the real author) fashions the two narratives into a coherent story of families lost and then found again. Through a series of discoveries uncovered by tenacious research, Wiggins (the character) manages to bring the past history of her father to bear on the present in a way that is illuminating and satisfying. Wiggins (the real author) amplifies her story by incorporating selective images in the manner of W. G. Sebald, and fashions a fictional study of Curtis that reveals a complex, creative, charismatic yet contradictory individual. This is an extraordinary novel that exemplifies the best of historical fiction.