NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY CHICAGO TRIBUNE AND ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • NPR • Los Angeles Times • The Boston Globe • The Seattle Times • The Independent
In such acclaimed novels as Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic, National Book Award–winning author Colum McCann has transfixed readers with his precision, tenderness, and authority. Now, in his first collection of short fiction in more than a decade, McCann charts the territory of chance, and the profound and intimate consequences of even our smallest moments.
“As it was, it was like being set down in the best of poems, carried into a cold landscape, blindfolded, turned around, unblindfolded, forced, then, to invent new ways of seeing.”
In the exuberant title novella, a retired judge reflects on his life’s work, unaware as he goes about his daily routines that this particular morning will be his last. In “Sh’khol,” a mother spending Christmas alone with her son confronts the unthinkable when he disappears while swimming off the coast near their home in Ireland. In “Treaty,” an elderly nun catches a snippet of a news report in which it is revealed that the man who once kidnapped and brutalized her is alive, masquerading as an agent of peace. And in “What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” a writer constructs a story about a Marine in Afghanistan calling home on New Year’s Eve.
Deeply personal, subtly subversive, at times harrowing, and indeed funny, yet also full of comfort, Thirteen Ways of Looking is a striking achievement. With unsurpassed empathy for his characters and their inner lives, Colum McCann forges from their stories a profound tribute to our search for meaning and grace. The collection is a rumination on the power of storytelling in a world where language and memory can sometimes falter, but in the end do not fail us, and a contemplation of the healing power of literature.
Praise for Thirteen Ways of Looking
“Extraordinary . . . incandescent.”—Chicago Tribune
“The irreducible mystery of human experience ties this small collection together, and in each of these stories McCann explores that theme in some strikingly effective ways. . . . [The first story] is as fascinating as it is poignant. . . . [The second] captures the mundane and mysterious aspects of shaping characters from the gray clay of words, placing them in realistic settings and breathing life into their lungs. . . . That he makes the story so emotionally compelling is a sign of his genius. . . . The most remarkable [piece] is Sh’khol. . . . Caught in the rushing currents of this drama, you know you’re reading a little masterpiece.”—The Washington Post
“McCann is a writer of power and subtlety and beauty. . . . The powerful title story loiters in the mind long after you’ve read it.”—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times
“[McCann] unspools complex and unforgettable stories in this, his first collection in more than a decade.”—The Boston Globe
“McCann is a passionate writer whose impulse is always toward a generous understanding of his diverse characters.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Powerful, profound, and deeply empathetic, McCann’s beautifully wrought writing in Thirteen Ways of Looking glides off the page.”—BuzzFeed
“McCann weaves the magic that made Let the Great World Spin so acclaimed.”—The Huffington Post
A novella evoking insecurity in the age of security cameras and three heartbreaking stories make up McCann's (TransAtlantic) latest short-fiction collection. Various ways of looking which are referenced in the title novella and serve as the highlight of this outstanding volume include cameras installed in elderly Judge Mendelssohn's Upper East Side apartment, at the neighborhood restaurant where Mendelssohn meets his son for lunch, and along the street where Mendelssohn, walking home alone, is assaulted just outside camera range. Mendelssohn's memories and observations alternate with video images that police examine and reexamine to identify his assailant. Human and technical perspectives (and even a housefly's) are captured in spare, suggestive prose. Videotapes, for example, show something of a Greek epic, "the old gray man with his walking stick, venturing out, into the snow, out of frame and away like an ancient word stepping off a page." Insights into aging, the justice system, and dislocation widen the novella's scope; details of how things work keep it real. The second story, for instance, details the process of writing stories. A writer imagines a Marine in Afghanistan phoning home; the image becomes a story; details emerge; the story takes on a life of its own. The collection finishes with "Sh'khol," which follows the adoptive mother of a mentally disabled boy missing in Galway Bay, in Ireland, and "Treaty," about a nun, scarred from brutal torture in Latin America, who sees her abuser on television a statesman negotiating a peace treaty. Separate and together, these four works prove McCann a master with a poet's ear, a psychologist's understanding, and a humanitarian's conscience.