Thirteen Ways of Looking: Fiction

Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann's first collection of short fiction since 2004, confirms his status as a gifted writer.

Roughly half of the book consists of the title novella, inspired by the iconic Wallace Stevens poem. In it, McCann (Let the Great World Spin) juxtaposes an account of the final day of Peter Mendelssohn, a retired Brooklyn judge, with the investigation into his death after he's assaulted leaving an Upper East Side restaurant on a snowy afternoon. As McCann painstakingly describes the police detectives' exhaustive study of video for clues to the identity of Mendelssohn's assailant--a distinctly intense form of looking--he makes clear how these investigators "work in much the same way as poets: the search for a random word, at the right instance, making the poem itself so much more precise."

"What Time Is It Now, Where Are You?" the briefest story in the collection, is a clever metafictional exercise. The story "Sh'khol" already has garnered McCann a 2016 Pushcart Prize and a spot in Best American Short Stories 2015. Set on the Galway coast, where "white spindrift blew up from the sea, landing softly on the tall hedges in the back garden," it tells the gripping story of the disappearance of Tomas, a deaf Russian teenager adopted by Rebecca, an Irish woman. McCann's writing has always been distinguished by its humanity, a quality best displayed in "Treaty," in which Beverly, an Irish Maryknoll nun who was captured and tortured in Colombia nearly four decades earlier, believes she has glimpsed her sadistic captor on television at a peace conference in London.

Whether reading him for his stories or for his sentences, Colum McCann is one of those writers whose work consistently engages the imagination. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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