three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Shadow CatcherThe Shadow Catcher combines elements of postmodern and historical fiction, memoir, and travelogue to explore two stories. The first depicts the relationship between famed early 20th-century photographer Edward Curtis, who made his reputation on stylized photographs of Native Americans, and his long-suffering wife, Clara. The second examines the author’s own present life. Through coincidence and attention to the power of place and history, Wiggins connects the two threads as she moves from a Hollywood pitch meeting with filmmakers interested in her version of the Curtis story to a Las Vegas hospital room, where she confronts a man who has assumed the identity of her deceased father.
Simon & Schuster. 336 pages. $25. ISBN: 0743265203

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"There are passages in Marianne Wiggins’s eighth novel so piercingly beautiful that I put the book down, shook my head and simply said, ‘Wow. …’ [The author’s] most magnificent prose is lavished on bravura evocations of wide-open American spaces that acknowledge their complex appeal to men and women alike." Wendy Smith

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a quick-flowing and rich slurry of ideas, situations and wordplay, in which concepts sometimes appear in capital letters, the author trying to think big while the seemingly casual commentary of the narrative voice, apt to flit here and there without much preface, imitates the naturalistic disjunction that daily experience and one’s thought process can have." Art Winslow

Los Angeles Time 4 of 5 Stars
"You wouldn’t know from reading The Shadow Catcher that Marianne Wiggins is one of our most adventuresome and enterprising novelists, an author who has wrestled time and time again with strange settings, shattering events, questions of survival and its costs. The reason you wouldn’t know has nothing to do with Wiggins’ skills—The Shadow Catcher is both mesmerizing and convincing—rather, it has to do with Wiggins’ narrative tone, which is simple and friendly, and with her use of herself as a character." Jane Smiley

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Strictly as a piece of fiction, [The Shadow Catcher is] highly unsatisfactory by design, a glimpse of the limits of imagination when faced with a stubbornly unrevealing subject. … Wiggins’ net effect is vertiginously enjoyable, a rambunctious puzzle-box that rewards dives into murky interpretive waters: The more effort you devote to thinking the book through, the greater its rewards." Jesse Berrett

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"‘Novel’ just doesn’t cover what reads like at least two novels (one contemporary, one historical fiction), as well as memoir, essay, art criticism and travelogue. … But however scattershot, The Shadow Catcher brings into focus the inchoate issues of identity, isolation and family in the context of an iconic turn-of-the-20th-century American artist, and racks up creative brownie points as genre-bending and philosophical fiction." Karen Schechner

Miami Herald 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Though at times devastatingly enlightening about the American psyche and filled with lovely fragments that snag one’s consciousness, this ambitious work is less likely to linger in memory than we might have hoped. Wiggins is an exacting writer always worthy of our attention, but here too many postmodern contrivances distract from her ruthless, intelligent, gleaming prose." Connie Ogle

Seattle Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"How, exactly, does the ‘real’ Marianne Wiggins overlap with the character who bounces around this novel? By the time I finished The Shadow Catcher, I had pretty much ceased to care about—or believe in—any of it." David Laskin

Critical Summary

The Shadow Catcher is Marianne Wiggins’s eighth novel. Over a career that has spanned more than 30 years and included a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Evidence of Things Unseen (2003), the author has built a reputation as a stylist and a storyteller with an eye for distinctive, character-driven material. Her latest effort plays with the "traditional" novel in ways that make reviewers sweat. The book’s mixed critical reception—certainly more positive than negative—likely has as much to do with questions of what to make of a novel so difficult to pin down as with any specific grievances over what Wiggins attempts here. Not surprisingly, the more straightforward narrative with Curtis and Clare resonated with reviewers more.