In an unnamed town in the summer of 1998, Judy is an isolated and inexperienced teenager on the cusp of adulthood struggling to craft an identity for herself—especially as the artist she wants to be.
There is little help around her. Her only friends are increasingly obsessed with a cultish belief in a coming “Big Shadow.” Her mother is afraid of life and finds solace in TV shows. At her lowest point, Judy meets Maurice Blunt, a visiting summer poetry class professor who is a “has-been” fixture of the 1970s NYC punk music scene. Judy believes Maurice—a man more than twice her age desperately seeking lost adoration—is the ticket out of her current life. Soon, she begins taking secret weekend trips to visit him.
Judy’s visits to his apartment in New York bring hopes of belonging to the city’s cultural world and making a living as a video artist. With each trip and frustrated promise, however, she feels the creeping realization that there is a price to pay for her golden ticket entry into this insular and moribund scene. Judy must navigate the shifting power dynamics with her aging gatekeeper and the possibility of building an early adult identity alone.
An affecting novel of psychological nuance and dark humour, Big Shadow explores the costs of self-deceit, fandom, and tenuous ambitions, exposing the lies we’ll tell ourselves and the promises we’ll make to edge closer to what we want… or what we think we want.
Praise for Big Shadow
“Preternatural, radiating warmth and coldness and colour and light, Big Shadow brims with intelligence and wit. While one world flickers in the background, our narrator enters another, but by the end, we see that the flickering is, amazingly, reality too. I never quite knew where this novel was taking me, which is exactly where I wanted to be going.” —Amina Cain, author of Indelicacy
“Big Shadow is a quietly radical novel in which a strange woman in an absurd world disorients us so the story can remind us that actually, it’s this life that is absurd, it is we who are strange. Marta Balcewicz’s unflagging focus on the beauty of the world’s lost and forgotten things beseeches us to stay still, just for a second, and pay attention. Funny, moving, and a pure delight.” —Thea Lim, Scotiabank Giller Prize–shortlisted author of An Ocean of Minutes
“Marta Balcewicz’s Big Shadow is a deft portrait of artistic ambition and the troubled pursuit of truth. This story of everyday grifters—the small town proselytizers and desperate musicians—captures how difficult it is to untangle oneself from the narratives that are imposed. Smart, ironic, and tender, with prose as sharp as a scam, Big Shadow is the first of many excellent Balcewicz novels to come.” —Isle McElroy, author of People Collide and The Atmospherians
Most Anticipated: Our 2023 Spring Fiction Preview —49th Shelf
“A contemplative debut with starry sentences and characters whom, despite their 90s cringe, you can’t help but root for.” —Bex Frankeberger, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn
“Set in 1998, Big Shadow is a coming-of-age novel in which there are no easy ways to grow up—the only way out is through one’s own mistakes and triumphs.” —Eileen Gonzalez, Foreword Reviews
Books of the Month: May 2023 Edition —Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“In magnifying the myopic struggle of art versus commerce and ambition versus reality, Big Shadow most viscerally captures the essence of the formative years of the human experience.” —Aquarium Drunkard
The First Poet: An Excerpt from Big Shadow by Marta Balcewicz —Hazlitt
The Strange Is Real: A Recommended Reading List by the Author of Big Shadow —49th Shelf
“Authors depicting the inner revolutions of boredom run the danger of exposing readers to unbearable levels of monotony. Toronto writer Marta Balcewicz’s debut novel Big Shadow explores teenage apathy in detail, but avoids this all too common problem by infusing the book with charming doses of quaintness and naïveté.” —Jean Marc Ah-Sen, The Toronto Star
“Whenever [Big Shadow] seems to be going one way, Balcewicz swerves on to a backroad plot, offering tightly orchestrated alternatives that skewer heart and mind.” —Arturo Vidich, Chicago Review of Books
Interview with rob mclennan —rob mclennan’s blog
Character Study: Dream Casting for a Big Shadow Film Adaptation —All Lit Up
Summer Books 2023: Your Official Reading List —Chatelaine
“It is Judy’s day-to-day life that dominates the narrative—one so well-expressed that what impresses the reader is not what happens, but how it is described.” —Dave Williamson, Winnipeg Free Press
Marta Balcewicz spent her early childhood in Pomerania and Madrid, and now lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Catapult, Tin House online, Vol. 1. Brooklyn, Washington Square Review, The Rumpus, and Passages North amongst other publications. Her fiction was anthologized in Tiny Crimes (Catapult, 2018). She received a fellowship from Tin House Workshops in 2022. Big Shadow is her first novel.
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