Irish-born and New-York-City-based author Colum McCann, who has penned several exceptional novels — including Let the Great World Spin, which won the 2009 National Book Award — has acquired a reputation as a writer of great lyrical and emotional beauty. His latest collection of short fiction, Thirteen Ways of Looking, reaffirms this with new characters learning to live with grace and tenderness under the most difficult conditions.
The opening novella echoes a harrowing incident, which, strangely enough, happened to McCann after he completed the story. McCann was the victim of a random assault on a city sidewalk. In this telling, a retired judge ruminates about the humiliations of aging and acceptance of depending on others for care.
“Sh’khol” is the harrowing story of a mother whose son nearly drowns in the ocean wearing a scuba diving wetsuit she gives him as a Christmas present.
In “What Time Is It, Where You Are,” McCann contemplates his own procrastination while writing a story for a newspaper assignment. In the end, he imagines with us the story of a lonely American servicewoman in Afghanistan — a mother trying to “connect” on the phone with her son living in Charleston, S.C. McCann ponders finally, “How do we sit with Sandi in her lonely outpost? How do we look out into the dark?”
In an author’s note at the end of this collection, McCann writes, “In the end, every work we write is autobiographical, perhaps most especially when we attempt to avoid the autobiographical,” and “For all its imagined moments, literature works in unimaginable ways.” Unimaginable and sublime. Grade: B+