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Review: Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

Colum McCann is an internationally renowned author of novels and short stories. Some of his well-known novels include TransAtlantic, Zoli, Dancer, Songdogs, and his National Book Award winning Let the Great World Spin. Thirteen Ways of Looking is McCann’s first book of short stories in a decade and doesn’t disappoint his readers.

In 2004 McCann was attacked and knocked unconscious on the streets of New Haven, Connecticut. He had started writing these stories prior to that incident, but it affected him and impacted how the stories were ultimately developed. The New York Times stated that the stories “…are connected by a tension, an unease, a threat, a sense that things are off kilter but perhaps can be put right if the characters, and the reader, understand them more fully.”

The title story, a novella, is about a retired judge, reflecting on his life’s work, unaware that this will be the final day of his life. 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 finally 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.

Called mesmerizing by some, deeply personal and subtly subversive by others, and at times harrowing and funny, Thirteen Ways of Looking demonstrates Colum McCann’s standing as one of this country’s greatest contemporary writers.

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