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"As it was, it was like being set down in the best of poems, carried into a cold landscape, blindfolded, turned around, unblindfolded, forced, then, to invent new ways of seeing."
In the exuberant title novella, a retired judge reflects on his life's work, unaware as he goes about his daily routines that this particular morning will be his last. In "Sh'khol", a mother spending Christmas alone with her son confronts the unthinkable when he disappears while swimming off the coast near their home in Ireland. In "Treaty", an elderly nun catches a snippet of a news report in which it is revealed that the man who once kidnapped and brutalized her is alive, masquerading as an agent of peace. And in "What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?", a writer constructs a story about a Marine in Afghanistan calling home on New Year's Eve.
Deeply personal, subtly subversive, at times harrowing, and indeed funny, yet also full of comfort, Thirteen Ways of Looking is a striking achievement. With unsurpassed empathy for his characters and their inner lives, Colum McCann forges from their stories a profound tribute to our search for meaning and grace. The collection is a rumination on the power of storytelling in a world where language and memory can sometimes falter but in the end do not fail us and a contemplation of the healing power of literature.
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By W Perry Hall on 10-30-15
Euphonies, Heartrending and Profound
This is a mesmerizing collection of a novella and three short stories. Irish author Colum McCann's radiant prose seems the consummate soother of the ever-shuffling soul while his stories stir one's deepest sentiments: a child disappears overnight from his mother's bed at a seaside resort; a writer goes through the stop-and-go process of writing a short story on distant lovers; a nun faces her fears and resentments after seeing her South American captor/rapist on a televised "peace" press conference 30 years later; and, in the eponymous novella, an elderly, retired and widowed judge's stream of consciousness on the day of his murder brilliantly mixed with a third person narrative of the NYPD detectives' investigation.
A quite humorous and breezy sample from the novella -- the Judge's inner dialog describing his disappointment with his son Elliott:
“He took a trip ... up to ... Elliott's house, his mansion rather. Awful place, twelve bedrooms and swimming pool and media hall and five car garage, but cheap and shoddy all the same, like the one next door and next door to that. A row of Ikea houses, such wealthy mediocrity. His very own son. His big, bald son. Who could believe it. The bigness, the baldness, the stupidity. In a house designed to bore the daylight out of visitors, no character at all, all blonde wood and fluorescent lighting and clean white machinery.
Not to mention his brand new wife, number three, a clean white machine herself. Up from the cookie cutter and into Elliott's life, she might as well have jumped out of the microwave, her skin orange, her teeth pearly white. A trophy wife. But why the word 'trophy'? Something to shoot on a safari.”
The words, particularly as read by Colum McCann, flow over the soul as a north wind ripples a field of shamrocks. In writing this review I searched for an appropos term for a prose narrative that is as poetic and hypnotic as it is profound. One I found should do the trick: a "euphony" (pleasing to the ear, especially through a harmonious combination of words), with the descriptors "heartrending" and "profound."
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