In The Shadow Catcher, Marianne Wiggins combines fact with fiction, past with present, and words with images in the unconventional telling of two compelling stories, set nearly a century apart, yet seamlessly intertwined. In one narrative, a novelist named Marianne Wiggins has written a novel, also titled The Shadow Catcher, about the photographer Edward S. Curtis, who came to fame through his attempts to photograph Native American people before they vanished from the American landscape. Wiggins’ story takes a turn when she is called to the death bed of her father, a man she knows died when she was a child. In the other historic narrative, we follow the story of Clara Phillips as she journeys across America and into the life of Curtis, the enigmatic photographer she would marry.
For years, Marianne Wiggins toyed with the idea of writing a novel about Edward S. Curtis. She wrote and rewrote large chunks of her novel, but struggled to find the interior tension that would sustain the work. Finally, two revelations pointed out the direction she was seeking: the truth, and not the illusion, of his life and work, and its correlation with her own complicated history.In researching the legendary photographer, Marianne Wiggins discovered that the reality of Edward S. Curtis was often not what it seemed. While his mission was to capture an image of truth before it vanished into history, Curtis saw nothing wrong with dressing a Navajo as a Sioux or removing a modern artifact that might betray whatever historic “truth” he was trying to convey.
Curtis was an absent husband and father, and Wiggins came to realize how closely this absence paralleled the emptiness left behind when her own father committed suicide. Threading elements of her own life into the novel, Wiggins was able to weave its two disparate storylines into a single haunting portrait of family history and personal loss.