cover image Thirteen Ways of Looking

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Colum McCann. Random, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9672-2

A novella evoking insecurity in the age of security cameras and three heartbreaking stories make up McCann’s (TransAtlantic) latest short-fiction collection. Various ways of looking—which are referenced in the title novella and serve as the highlight of this outstanding volume—include cameras installed in elderly Judge Mendelssohn’s Upper East Side apartment, at the neighborhood restaurant where Mendelssohn meets his son for lunch, and along the street where Mendelssohn, walking home alone, is assaulted just outside camera range. Mendelssohn’s memories and observations alternate with video images that police examine and reexamine to identify his assailant. Human and technical perspectives (and even a housefly’s) are captured in spare, suggestive prose. Videotapes, for example, show something of a Greek epic, “the old gray man with his walking stick, venturing out, into the snow, out of frame and away like an ancient word stepping off a page.” Insights into aging, the justice system, and dislocation widen the novella’s scope; details of how things work keep it real. The second story, for instance, details the process of writing stories. A writer imagines a Marine in Afghanistan phoning home; the image becomes a story; details emerge; the story takes on a life of its own. The collection finishes with “Sh’khol,” which follows the adoptive mother of a mentally disabled boy missing in Galway Bay, in Ireland, and “Treaty,” about a nun, scarred from brutal torture in Latin America, who sees her abuser on television—a statesman negotiating a peace treaty. Separate and together, these four works prove McCann a master with a poet’s ear, a psychologist’s understanding, and a humanitarian’s conscience. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)