Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2009)

McCann’s writing is beautiful, often poetic (though at times a little too flowery) in this novel which is really a collection of vignettes loosely held together with the story of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Towers in August of 1972. But mostly they’re held together simply by the connection to New York City: the grit, the graffiti, the disparity between the projects and Park Avenue, and the contrast between feeling anonymous and feeling deeply connected. As well, each character represents a social or political aspect of the 70’s: Corrigan is rooted in his Catholic faith, and acting as a Liberation Theologian, he protects, defends, and befriends the poor and the prostitutes; his brother, Ciaran, tries to make sense of this obsessive commitment that is foreign to him; upper crust Claire is reeling from the shock of losing her son who died in non-combat duty in Vietnam; Joshua, her dead son was a brilliant techie working for the government on the frontlines of Internet invention when he was killed in Southeast Asia; Gloria, who lives in the projects, lost her son in Vietnam as well, but she and Claire form a tenuous bond over their loss.  And in a spider-webby sort of way, McCann spins the stories around and through each other until there’s enough to connect them.  What pulled me in more than the stories was the writing itself.  At one point, Claire’s  support group—all mothers who lost sons in the war—is taken aback at finding out she lives on the Upper East side.  Janet says Oh, we didn’t know you lived up there. Up there.  As if it were somewhere to climb.  As if they would have to ascend to it.  Ropes and helmets and carabiners (77). I love the way we feel the physical dizziness and discomfort of the money, the power, the status that only Claire possesses.  Yet, she remains as lost, unhappy, and even more alone than the rest of them.

McCann never mentions 9/11, but in many ways that’s what the book is about: life goes on no matter what.  Despite tragedy, disgrace, or disillusionment–hope remains.  And the world spins on.  It happened in the 70’s, it happened after 9/11, and it will keep happening.


This is a really good read. (fiction)

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