Thirteen Ways of Looking

13 ways of looking Thirteen Ways of Looking

by Colum McCann
Short Stories/Anthologies
Random House
Hardcover, 256 pages

In the summer of 2014 author Colum McCann was brutally assaulted while attempting to stop a man from beating his wife. He was badly hurt — he fractured his cheekbone, broke several teeth and gashed his face — but the damage reverberated beyond the physical. While McCann started writing the stories in Thirteen Ways before his attack, how they ended up was directly impacted by it.  There are four stories here. One is a long novella of shifting tone and focus.  The others are short and more directed Each differs widely from the others, but all are connected by a sense that what is off kilter can perhaps be put right if the characters and the reader could just understand it better.
The title novella Thirteen Ways of Looking is inspired by Wallace Stevens' poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," and bits of this poem are found throughout the story. If Thirteen Ways sneaks up on you, then the other stories here will smack you over the head. In the other short stories in this book, McCann addresses a mother who may have lost her child; a woman who sees her attacker many years after the fact; and closes with a writer who is struggling with writer's block. All four of these stories are brilliantly written.