Thirteen Ways of Looking

Thirteen Ways of Looking, by Colum McCann, reviewed 12th April 2018

As a group we do not read many short stories and this collection divided the group. Nobody awarded it the full five marks and the modal mark was three.

(From a review in The New York Times)

The novella and three stories make up McCann’s collection of fiction, “Treaty” imagines a Maryknoll nun traveling to London to confront her Latin American torturer-rapist, 37 years after the fact. “Sh’khol,” is a harrowing tale (the collection’s best) about the agonies of an Irish single mother whose deaf child goes missing near the ocean.

“What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?” is a fascinatingly self-conscious metafiction in which a male writer composes a story about a female Marine in Afghanistan — a rebuke, witting or not, to the spate of contemporary fiction about life in the American military whose central tenet seems to be that nobody can possibly understand what it was like.

But the anchor of the book is the title novella with which it commences: the tale of an octogenarian Manhattan judge named Mendelssohn, on what we learn early will be the last day of his life. His end will not be peaceful: On a snowy afternoon he will be fatally assaulted. The implication seems to be that even a clear-cut physical encounter has multiple, sometimes hidden perspectives. The narrative crosscuts between Mendelssohn’s last day and the efforts of the police charged with solving his murder.