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 Colum McCann
Let the Great World Spin
Winner of the National Book Award
“One of the most electric, profound novels I have read in years.”—Jonathan Mahler, The New York Times Book Review
“Stunning . . . [an] elegiac glimpse of hope.”—USA Today
“There’s so much passion and humor and pure life force on every page that you’ll find yourself giddy, dizzy, overwhelmed.”—Dave Eggers
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
“Reminiscent of the finest work of Michael Ondaatje and Michael Cunningham.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Here is the uncanny thing McCann finds again and again about the miraculous: that it is inseparable from the everyday.”—The Boston Globe
“Another sweeping, beautifully constructed tapestry of life . . . Reading McCann is a rare joy.”—The Seattle Times
An Amazon Best Book of October 2015: The great, enviable quality of Colum McCann’s books– the thing that wins him prizes (National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin), fellowships (a Guggenheim) and fans (both as a teacher, at Hunter College in New York where he mentored last year’s national book award winner Phil Klay, among others) — is that they are both erudite and deeply, humanely, readable. You don’t have to know, for example, that the title of the collection and of the novella inside, comes from a Wallace Stevens poem; read straightforwardly, the title story is a brilliant evocation on its own, a sardonic and touching account of the last day in the life of an ailing New York judge, who reminisces passionately about his late wife and sees all too clearly the boor of a son they’ve created. And even though there’s a bit of a whodunit in this tale – Judge Mendelssohn dies mysteriously on the street outside the restaurant he frequents for lunch–the pleasure is as much in the language as in the plot. McCann can’t resist some refined word play (“Don’t put all your begs in one ask-it”) and the occasional, ultra-descriptive insult (“His wife is a pile-up of peroxide.) But there’s a lot of heart here, too, as well as in the other three stories in the collection. McCann says in his Author’s Notes that all four pieces were written in reaction to “an incident that occurred in New Haven, Connecticut” when the author was knocked unconscious by a stranger as he went to the aid of a woman in distress. Opining that, no matter what, “every word we write is autobiographical,” McCann has found a way to plumb, in fiction, the real life violence all around us and the way each of us copes, or not. – Sara Nelson
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