Novels on Art and the Bonds of Commitment

In the New York Sun, Mike Peed reviews in Marianne Wiggins’s The Shadow Catcher and Emily Mitchell’s The Last Summer of the World.

“Art comes first; one can’t focus on art if one has a family,” said the painter Édouard Vuillard. Those gifted with overwhelming artistic talent — be it painting, composing, or writing — are dutybound to their work because, as artists, they’re duty-bound to society. The advancement of human culture subjugates familial obligations, and so the family must be sacrificed. What may appear selfish to spouses and children is, viewed through the hyperopic lens of high culture, as selfless as martyrdom.

As detailed in Marianne Wiggins’s “The Shadow Catcher” ( Simon & Schuster, 336 pages, $25), and Emily Mitchell’s debut novel, “The Last Summer of the World” (Norton, 352 pages, $24.95), both Edward Curtis, the famed Native American iconographer, and Edward Steichen, an early director of the Museum of Modern Art’s photography department, left trails of spousal and filial detritus as they and their photographs climbed to international renown. These novels attempt to humanize their subjects, removing their pictures from gallery walls, scrutinizing the dust on their frames, and unveiling the spots of mold beneath.