Each year Santa Monica Citywide Reads selects a book for the community to read together and meet to discuss. They have been doing this for seven years. This year they have chosen a story by Marianne Wiggins. It is called “The Shadow Catcher” and it is well done. She started writing back in 1970. She took time off from her occupation as a professor of English at the University of Southern California to write this book as well as nine other books of fiction.
The title “Shadow Catcher” refers to the person of Edward Curtis in the period of his life when he was a photographer. This fictional account is told on two levels. In the present we have a character named the same as the author. The reason for this may be to lend some reality to the goings on. This section envisions Wiggins as a novelist who is trying to sell a screenplay by Curtis to a filmmaker. This filmmaker envisions a great story. But does the filmmaker really understand what that story is about?
The second level is the flashback to what could be the story behind Edward Curtis and his wife, Clara during that period of time Curtis was pursuing photography. This is a real person so there is a level of authenticity projected. Cutis was a reconstructionist when it came to the photos. For example, he would take a Navaho and dress him up as a Sioux or he would remove the background items to make the photo more “historically true.” In order to pursue his photography he must become an absentee father. The character, Wiggins, has a history of an absentee father. This is brought home to her when she confronts a case of identity theft. She gets a phone call about a patient in a hospital in Las Vegas who has the ID of her father. The truth is her father has been dead for a while. I won’t spoil that for you.
Read the book and you will find out how the two plots merge.
The underlying story is the contrast between reality and shadow. Photography captures the shadow. Reality is not what we see on the paper. It has been said our perception of the West comes either from Ansell Adams or Edward Curtis. This is a reconstruction of what might have been. It is done in the structure of a story within a story. The sections that concern Wiggins are in first person. The Curtis sections are done in third person.
The book is interspersed with the photographs Curtis took of the world as he perceived it. On one level it is a mystery story concerning what is true. On the other it is a good read. The book should present good discussion.
The way these Santa Monica Reads go is there are groups scheduled throughout the area headed up by trained volunteers who will facilitate the discussion. City Hall’s The Seascape for February details some areas that they will be taking place. The events are scheduled to go on from March 7 to April 4.
Further information can be found at your local library or www.smpl.org/cwr, www.santamnonicawidereads.blogspot.com or at (310) 458-8600.
Wiggins is a local author. She was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and moved out here to California. You can Google her and see her talk about this book against the backdrop of the Santa Monica Pier and the ocean.
Please, join in our Santa Monica Citywide read. It is free to the public. If you count time as a cost, than that is all you have to give. Reading is a lost art. Let’s not be the ones who lose it. Read and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk with the best looking book reviewer in Santa Monica.