TThank you to Random House for providing me with an advanced copy of Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT – Colum McCann’s short story collection, Thirteen Ways of Looking, includes four stories, all involving a different type of violence or trauma. In a short afterward, McCann explains that while he was writing this collection, when he was sucker punched and knocked unconscious, while trying to help a woman who was being assaulted in New Haven, Connecticut. Although some of the stories were written prior to the incident, the assault inevitably had an impact on his stories in Thirteen Ways of Looking.
LIKE – This is my first time reading McCann, and I was caught off-guard by the way that his stories have been following me. I can’t get them out of my mind, which is a bit of a disaster, since the content is disturbing and weighty.
I was affected by all of the stories, but the one that packed the biggest punch, was Treaty. Told in close third person, Treaty is the story of an aging nun named Beverly. When Beverly was in her early twenties, she was kidnapped, brutally tortured, and raped. She escaped, but so did her rapist. Fast forward to the present, when Beverly sees him on television. He is now in politics, in London brokering a peace deal. Shocked and unsure how to handle this revelation, Beverly heads to London to confront her attacker. Treaty is a raw, gut-wrenching story that left me entirely surprised.
Another highlight is Sh’khol, the story of divorced mother Rebecca, and her thirteen year old son. Tomas. Tomas has mental and emotional disabilities, and he is prone to violent outbursts. He cannot be left on his own. Overwhelmed, but doing her best to care for him, Rebecca’s Christmas gift to Tomas is a wetsuit, so that they can swim together in the ocean, just steps from their home. Rebecca has a cocktail and goes to bed on Christmas, only to discover that Tomas and the wetsuit are missing the next morning. Filled with self-blame, Rebecca must deal with suspicious police and her ex-husband, while desperately searching for her son.
I admire McCann’s crafting. He manages to create compelling plots without sacrificing emotion or character development. He writes at a level to which every writer should aspire.
DISLIKE - Thirteen Ways of Looking, the title story, ran long and it was the only story in the collection, where I found my interest waning. Thirteen Ways of Looking is a nod to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, using a close third perspective while following multiple characters, each giving their version of the events leading to a murder. The suspense is kept until the very end, which is left open for the reader to determine the truth of the incident. From a technical standpoint, all of the parts of the story are well crafted and the shifting perspectives creates an interesting dynamic, however, I didn’t find it to be as affecting or haunting as the other stories. Thirteen Ways of Looking is ambitious in scale, but doesn’t have the same impact. I appreciated it, but didn’t invest in it.
RECOMMEND- Yes! Even if you don’t read the entire collection, make sure to get your hands on Treaty. It’s stellar. I look forward to reading more stories by Colum McCann. As a reader, I’m hooked, and as an aspiring writer, I want to learn from his talent.