Colum McCann writes better from female points of view than male ones. Among living male novelists I know of, this problem is unique. So the white Irishman is a brilliant ventriloquist of hookers and housewives who writes feelingly about African-American femininity. Yet with his white Irish male characters, for whom he writes in something like his own voice, the echo comes back dead. It is only one of the ways in which Mr. McCann, a self-described “international mongrel” (the term is Michael Ondaatje’s), evades identity lines. His style is assimilative, self-effacing, globalized and alienation-free. He might be the first European to have novelized America unironically. He has a superb imagistic eye—once you have read that, for example, a long-billed bird is like “a scissors moving across the sky,” the simile cannot be unseen—yet he seems to be more interested in empathy than observation. Gentleness excites him, as does trauma on a large scale, and all his books have at least one landmark calamity: the Troubles, the subway sandhogs, the persecution of the Roma, AIDS. He writes new takes on well-known disasters, propelled by a spirit of ultra-modern sensitivity. Read More
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