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A novel intertwined with the life story of 'The Shadow Catcher'

The life of legendary photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis is the starting point for Marianne Wiggins's new novel.

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Screenwriters often dream of pitching their ideas to Hollywood producers, but it's a safe bet that their fantasies are nothing like the pitch meeting attended by Marianne Wiggins.

For one thing, the Los Angeles writer shows up 40 minutes late with lipstick on her teeth. For another, she seems determined to talk the production company out of adapting her novel, "The Shadow Catcher," about legendary Western photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis.

So opens The Shadow Catcher, by, er, Marianne Wiggins. (In addition to sharing names with her main character, the real Wiggins has given the fictional novel the same title as her own.) It's easy to forgive this bit of metaindulgence, as the novel is in all other respects a wonderfully written examination of family and memory, with poetic meditations on everything from Route 66 to Leonardo da Vinci.

Curtis spent the years between 1900 and 1919 in the Western United States, photographing every single tribe, trying to create a historical record before (as he mistakenly thought) native Americans vanished from the landscape. His motives sound noble, and he certainly crafted the legend of himself as carefully as he did his portraits.

Somewhat less than heroic

"How could someone who looks like this and risks his life to make gorgeous images of Indians not be perfect for a movie?" the female producer asks when the fictional Marianne tries to dissuade her. "How tall was he?"

Wiggins has to explain: "Curtis didn't risk his life finding them – he paid the Bureau of Indian Affairs a fee to photograph inside the reservations, that he drove to, in most cases, in his car."

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