Thirteen Ways of Looking, Colum McCann, 2015
A new collection of stories from one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers is disturbing in their violence and perhaps mostly in their unsettledness. In the longest one, a retired 80 something year old judge is murdered on the street outside his favorite lunchtime restaurant, ostensibly killed by a busboy whose daughter had been abused by the judge’s son. The story ends with the jury’s verdict in the murder trial about to be announced. The story is divided into 13 chapters, each one with a stanza of the eponymous Wallace Stevens poem as an epigram. Lovely woodcuts of one or two cardinals in a wintry tree accompany each chapter. The other stories (a gay Marine calling her lover and step son from Afghanistan on New Year’s Eve, a divorced mother whose adopted, deaf Russian 13 year old son is thought to have drowned but found safe may have been abused, and an older nun who identifies her former Colombian torturer on TV and flies to London to confront him) are similarly taut and tense with violence or threatened loss and also end without resolution. A theme running through all the stories is the presence (or in the case of the Marine and the lost boy, the absence) of cameras watching our every action—privacy vs. surveillance and protection. The writing is superb with metaphors that stop one cold with their precision and beauty. A fine collection perhaps motivated and shaped by McCann’s own experience with having been beaten on a New Haven street.