Marianne Wiggins’s novel The Shadow Catcher (2007) has been praised for its poetic writing and its unusual form. In regards to the form, the novel is, in part, a work of fiction about fiction. At the same time, it is also a fictionalized account of real people. Another unique characteristic of this book is that the author includes photographic portraits of real people as if she were writing a biography. Unless readers have completed in-depth research of their own, however, they will not know where truth ends and fiction begins.
The story begins with a character named Marianne Wiggins (the same as the author’s name). After a brief introduction to this character (who also shares many characteristics with the author), this thread of the story is temporarily dropped. The story turns to the focused topic, the photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952). Curtis was famous for his attempts to capture the lives of turn-of-the-century Native Americans.
There are many unanswered questions about Curtis’s life, and Wiggins attempts to answer them through a combination of research and fictive rendition. Wiggins has said that she wrote The Shadow Catcher to get behind the myth of Curtis—to find the truth of his life. But as the book comes to an end, the author concludes that, in fact, the truth about anyone’s life is elusive.
Although the two stories in this novel are separated by more than one hundred years, they are intricately entwined. The main story about Curtis is told mostly through his wife, Clara. Readers witness Clara’s development from a young, single woman to a wife and struggling mother. Wiggins paints Clara as a somewhat saintly figure who supports her husband no matter how badly he treats her. It is Clara who builds a myth around her husband, hoping to instill in her children a love for their often-absent father.
In the other part of the story, the character Marianne meets a Native American man whose father knew Curtis. This is when unsuspected details come to the surface that deepen Marianne’s understanding of Curtis and provide her with a better understanding of her own life and relationships.