Thirteen Ways of Looking
Four stories (one novella and three short stories), Colum McCann's latest work deals with assault. While these are not explicitly what the collection is marketed as -- the lingering unease around physical and sexual assault weaves throughout the four stories. The eponymous story, "Thirteen Ways of Looking," tells the tale of the murder of an elderly man, a retired New York judge. The other three stories take you from Afghanistan to Ireland to an unnamed Latin American country. McCann's writing makes you feel instantly transported to these locations, and I wish I could've spend more time in that first one. That, really, was my biggest frustration with this beautifully written collection: I wanted more. I wanted that novella that started off the book to take it up entirely; the way it weaves into the character's mind and into the detectives and into the landscape of New York enveloped in a blizzard. But I also wanted to read more of "Sh'khol," the story of a mother whose son disappears.
Having read Let the Great World Spin, I expected all the stories to be interconnected, which probably made me focus on trying to connect them instead of just reading them. I now know they're not, just tied together by the theme of assault. And what adds another interesting dimension to the whole collection is that McCann is writing from his personal experience. He writes on his website: "On the 27th of June, 2014, I was assaulted in New Haven, Connecticut, punched and knocked unconscious after trying to help a woman who had also been assaulted along a busy city street. I was hospitalised and spent much of that summer in and out of doctors’ waiting rooms from various physical problems that arose directly from the assault. Some of the stories in “Thirteen Ways of Looking” were written before the assault and some of them were written afterwards." (Go read the whole statement if you have read this book). And it's clear that the impact of this assault has come into his writing. Here's one phrase I loved so much I wrote down (unrelated to this whole review, but a glimpse into his wondrous phrasing): "the years don't so much arrive, they gate crash..." Rating: ★★★★(★)
P.S.Thanks to my Grandmother for recommending this & my mom for reading it during her book club so she had a copy I could borrow.