This was book club choice for February discussion - and it did generate quite a lot of discussion.
An ambitious work of fiction it is includes photographs from the work of Edward S Curtis and also from the author’s personal collection. Inserted throughout the text the images enhance the storytelling.
Although it is fictional, the author has drawn from aspects of herself and known facts about Edward S Curtis and his wife Clara to create two quite separate stories. One in the present is about a fictional Marianne Wiggins and the second about Edward S Curtis told from the point of view of Clara as his wife. It is the Edward and Clara story that is the centre piece and, for me, the strong point of the work.
Both stories raise the issue of the absentee father who ‘lights out’ from the family to create his own frontier. The vastness of the American landscape is also a central feature to both stories and the absolute silence and lack of any visible life at certain times when driving long distances. The Marianne of the novel is ‘spooked’ by the almost solid quality of night on the deserted highway and is very glad to hear the booming hoot of a haulage unit and to see it’s two glaring headlights knowing that someone else was alive in that black emptiness. It’s a great segway to the idea of Curtis, his long absences, and his re-appearances to the security he finds in having Clara at home waiting for his return.
Unfortunately for me I thought the novel just fell short of the mark in drawing the various threads together in spite of the well written prose and the many moments where I felt a sense of ‘aha’ in relation to the ideas or beauty of the words themselves.
It is definitely worth reading. I had no knowledge of Edward S Curtis previously, nor had I read anything by the author, but I shall certainly add her to my reading list.