Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann
I’m not usually a reader of short fiction, but these smaller stories were perfect for the little windows of time during this busy holiday season. I could knock out one of the stories during a quieter evening. Since they’re all very different, I think that each story deserves its own review:
Thirteen Ways of Looking
In our first story, an old man braves a New York blizzard for his favorite haunt and walks unknowingly to his doom. Apart from the thirteen chapters and thirteen snippets of a “meh” poem, I don’t really see the thirteen “perspectives” of this story. That said, this is a fantastic piece of writing. McCann is already showing his expertise here in the first story with masterful stream of consciousness narration. The old man’s personality comes out seamlessly in the written thought process. There are, however, high brow references up the wazoo. I wasn’t left completely alienated, but it did somewhat affect my reading of the story. Overall, this wasn’t my favorite of the bunch but it definitely was good.
What Time is it Now, Where You Are?
Although fairly short in breadth and page count, this was a very interesting story. Readers are introduced to a writer, his writing process, and his unique characters in the making. The writer in the story starts to create a short story of a female soldier in Afghanistan making a phone call home on New Years eve. In case you can’t tell already, this story was very meta. Although you as the reader know the created characters aren’t real (as in all fiction), they start to come alive with every page (as in all good fiction). Not the most addicting story, but a cool one nonetheless.
This story was my favorite of the bunch. A single mom and her mentally disabled son spend Christmas off the coast of Ireland, and the mom wakes the morning after to find her worst nightmare come alive. I just thought everything about this was absolutely breathtaking. The cold beauty of the landscape was the perfect backdrop to a mother’s harrowing search for her missing son. Each character was beautifully developed, even in this limited number of pages. You’re left with a few questions at the end, which can be frustrating, but I thought it was a fitting finale.
Ugh, I wish this book didn’t end this way. Treaty wasn’t a bad story in the slightest, but it was far too chilling and disturbing to be chosen as the story readers end with. Here we meet a nun who, while watching TV late one night, sees on screen the man who brutally tortured and abused her. With that one moment, her life starts to unravel. It is very well-written, and ends on what I would probably consider the most hopeful note it can, but it was still such a downer of an ending for the book. If I had to choose, I would say that Sh’kol should be the final story. I know that the writer had a difficult year before writing this book, and I know that none of the other stories are overly cheery, but choosing this as the send-off is such a bummer.
In the end, this book is definitely one you should read if short fiction is your thing. Although the writing was great, I wasn’t particularly blown away, so three stars from me. I would definitely consider reading some of his longer fiction, though.