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Thirteen Ways of Looking: Fiction Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 13, 2015
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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
“The irreducible mystery of human experience ties this small collection together, and in each of these stories [Colum] McCann explores that theme in some strikingly effective ways. . . . McCann has perfected a method of finely blending his own narration with his characters’ thoughts and dialogue. . . . [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. . . . [It’s] only one of the treasures in this collection.”—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
“McCann’s characters in this new work—whether nuns or judges or writers—are mostly ordinary people encountering extraordinary situations often touched by loss. Powerful, profound, and deeply empathetic, McCann’s beautifully wrought writing in Thirteen Ways of Looking glides off the page.”—BuzzFeed
“In just three short stories and one novella, McCann weaves the magic that made Let the Great World Spin so acclaimed—especially in one brilliant short piece of metafiction in which the process of writing a story becomes interwoven with the story created.”—The Huffington Post
Top Customer Reviews
Many have observed the phenomena of elderly life that makes the past more accessible than the present, but few more poetically: "how is that the deep past is littered with characters, while the present is so housebroken and flat?" So begins Mendholsson's narrative that takes us from early days in Lithuania and Ireland and later to America. A marriage to his childhood sweetheart; his rise in the legal profession, ending in financial success and a judgeship. It is lyrically and affectingly told. McCann, a native of Ireland, transplanted now in New York has a pitch perfect ear, effortlessly describing the "voice" of immigrant Jews with referential Yiiddish, Trinidadian home care workers and Puerto Rican doorman. Most importantly in just a page he can add a characteristic or feature that makes us feel we know these people, our paths having crossed, sometime before and that we wish to know them better.Read more ›
The great treat of the volume, however, is the novella. (I should confess that though I admire the skill that makes good ones, I have never been a fan of short stories.Read more ›
I can hear it -- that swerve nearly separating “Dad” into two syllables. That’s Colum McCann, whose lyrical stories practically read themselves.
Here he’s assembled a novella and three short stories, each of which explores looking through different perspectives. In the stories, there’s the mind of a writer as he creates and bends and prunes a story; there's a nun who catches sight of the man, now renown, who raped her decades before; and there's a translator’s struggle to find, in any language, an equivalent to the Hebrew word, “sh’khol” (a parent whose child has died), even as she deals with her own missing son. In the novella, a day in an octogenarian’s life is interpreted through the lenses of numerous surveillance cameras.
"[The detectives] will comb through the [camera] images looking for any random detail [...] The more obscure the moment, the more valuable the knowledge. [...] They 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."
Again, that’s McCann, who excels at finding the telling detail. This shorter collection wasn’t as immersive as his 2009 Let the Great World Spin (ten stories linked through shared characters and a connection to Phillippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers). But like every McCann story I’ve read, these touch gently on important topics via memorable characters, and each was individually satisfying.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Run, don't walk, to buy this book. McCann at his best. Impeccable writing. Love this guy.Published 25 days ago by Bruce Morrow
This is one of McCann's more brilliant books. And he is brilliant anyway. This one shines like a bright star from my shelves.Published 1 month ago by Amy Hale Auker
This is a collection of marvelous stories, one of which is not for the faint of heart.Published 1 month ago by Zosh
Main story really caught the flavor of an ailing 80 yr old man living in an apt in NYCPublished 2 months ago by Arlene F. Ghiron
Powerfully and beautifully written short stories. I enjoyed every word and the emotions it evoked.Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
3 different stories all with their own attraction. Colum McCann at his best once againPublished 2 months ago by Clare Bindon