Book Post: Catch the Light

Don’t just read Catch the Light… Experience it!

Want information about purchasing this book from Neighborhood Reads, a local Washington, MO book store? Click above!

I read Catch the Light by Kate Sweeney after a particularly long evening of literary agents research. I found this book listed on the page of an agent I thought could be a good fit for my books, and I picked it up hoping to get better insight into what she may be looking for in a manuscript. I was glad I did, because it wasn’t long before I realized I’d found a book that I knew I could read more than once- in fact, I already have!

Here we go, no spoilers. In Catch the Light, Marigold wants to remain in California living the life she’d created for herself, but in the wake of her father’s death, her mom moves her to New York- and not to the cool city. Marigold does her best to be the dutiful daughter and fit in without complaint. Only the longer she is there, the more she struggles to heal and balance her new relationships with the old ones she was forced to leave behind.

My heart went out to Marigold from the start. I never had to move during my K-12 education, but my house was in a particular part of town that got juggled between different middle schools due to redistricting. I went to sixth grade with an unusually close knit class, which I can fully appreciate after being a teacher myself for ten years. (Mr. Stewart deserves a medal for the way he valued all of us as individuals, helping us see the uniqueness of each person in our class. I think we’ll always remember that last month as elementary schoolers.) At the end of that special year, we were split between two schools. I then went to seventh grade and struggled to find my footing, hoping to fit in with a small group of girls from my soccer team. It worked, but only okay. In eighth grade when a third middle school opened, I was once again moved to a different school. I remember being told that I would meet back up with all of my friends in high school. Well, one year apart in middle school time is basically an eternity, and by the time I was reunited with those familiar elementary school faces, most of those friendships affected changed permanently. Marigold moves across the country after a death in her immediate family. She clearly had it way worse than me, so I had a lot of sympathy for her situation and the gray area decisions she makes as she grapples with her unaddressed feelings.

Marigold’s one outlet, which she uses to cope, is photography. This is what she says about it.

“And now sometimes photography feels like breathing, and other times it feels like frantically trying to gather up all the parts of my life before they disappear.”

I have to admit that for me photography consists of taking pictures of my family and friends to try to remember the precious moments we spend together. I’m not nearly as analytical as Marigold, whose pictures are calculated and artistic. She wanders her new environment with her camera trying to forever capture the subtle moments that make her world special, because she knows now that when you are separated from the people you love, either permanently or by distance, it’s easy to start forgetting the little things you took for granted about them. Inspired by German Photographer, Uta Barth, Marigold begins taking close up pictures of the parts of people that capture her attention: a single curl of hair, fingers pushing a button through a buttonhole, a shirtsleeve. 

I wanted to know more about this person that helped Marigold channel her grief into something productive. I discovered an artist who has her work displayed in numerous cities worldwide, has been honored with many fellowships during her ongoing career, and even worked as a professor. Many of her pictures are close ups of body parts- feet, arms, hair- in stark environments. There is a lot of white space, clear light sources, distinct shadows, and purposely blurred areas. The subject isn’t always obvious, at least not to me. Here is an example that I found particularly striking.

Seeing her images made me have a better idea of what Marigold’s photographs might look like. While reading, I knew what images she was often capturing, but I wasn’t able to picture how stylistic her final product could appear. In Barth’s work, she seeks to make you concentrate on looking, as opposed to just seeing. This is exactly what Marigold was doing, taking the time to really look at some of the people in her life for the first time. When we take the time to truly look, who knows what we will find? For me it was a different kind of beauty, which made me appreciate what Marigold was trying to capture on an emotional level. Hopefully, in Marigold’s case, it will be some sort of acceptance and possibly closure. What will it be for you?

It seems fitting to look into some music that Marigold knew because of her dad, which stayed with her after he was gone. Marigold listens to his music to try to connect to him again, when she feels he might be slipping away. His favorite group was the Talking Heads. Known for their contribution to the new wave music scene in the eighties, they gained popularity with their debut album Talking Heads: 77. I know them best for songs like “Psycho Killer,” “Burning Down the House,” and “Once in a Lifetime.” Although my favorite song is “This Must be the Place.” (I particularly like the use of this tune in the movie Lars and the Real Girl.) Marigold, however, listens to “And She Was,” from the album Little Creatures, with her sister Bea. The lyrics of this song stood out to me as being reminiscent of Marigold at times throughout the story. Many times, Marigold just is. She’s not actively doing or pursuing. Instead she’s putting inevitable things off, not thinking about the fact that they will eventually catch up with her. I’m sure none of us have ever done that (wink, wink).

She isn’t sure about what she’s done

No time to think about what to tell him

No time to think about what she’s done and she was

(Hey hey, hey hey, hey)

And she was looking at herself

And things were looking like a movie

In the lyrics, it sounds like the girl is taking on somewhat of an observer’s role in life, just like Marigold as she processes the many feelings brought on by her loss. It’s not a particularly effective coping strategy, but it’s one many people try nonetheless.

There you have it. Pull out your camera and focus on something small instead of a big picture. See if you can capture a subtle feature that otherwise might go unnoticed about someone you love. Zoom in close, so years from now there will be no doubt what you were hoping to remember. Maybe do this while listening to some Talking Heads. Take a moment to just be and see what you can see when you truly look. Do it in honor of Marigold. Do it for yourself, because you never know what you might find.

If you haven’t already read Catch the Light, what are you waiting for? If you already have, why not pick it up again? Either way, take my advice when you do- don’t just read it, experience it!

2 responses to “Book Post: Catch the Light”

  1. “You cant take a picture of this, it’s already gone.”

    Super excited for you Anna!


    1. I feel that way about most of the things the kids do! Thanks for stopping by, Alex!


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