- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 23, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781400063734
- ISBN-13: 978-1400063734
- ASIN: 1400063736
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 915 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Let the Great World Spin: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2009
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In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCannâs stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.
Let the Great World Spin is the critically acclaimed authorâs most ambitious novel yet: a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.
Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gather in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life careening sideways. Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth.
Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCannâs powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the cityâs people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the âartistic crime of the century.â A sweeping and radical social novel, Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence. Hailed as a âfiercely original talentâ (San Francisco Chronicle), award-winning novelist McCann has delivered a triumphantly American masterpiece that awakens in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal.
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The intricate weaving of characters is remarkable. The interplay of people from different social social classes all sharing the same city, all touched by an experience common to them by extraordinarily uncommon in the world.
Not a fast read, but I found it richly rewarding.
Just to get this off my chest: Just because Colum McCann is Irish doesn't automatically mean he needs to be compared with James Joyce. If there was another writer that I thought the story invoked, personally, it seemed more like Virginia Woolf.
In any case, the absolute best part of the book, and indeed the reason I would recommend it, is McCann's beautiful lyrical style of writing. Since each separate story is told by a different character, and since each character has a slightly different perception of the same event, McCann does a wonderful job of making sure that each story has its own voice. Without wishing to strain a metaphor, this seems akin to walking a tightrope; it looks easy, but go ahead and try it yourself.
I wholeheartedly thought his decision to leave Philippe Petit mostly an enigma (I don't even think he's ever even named) was correct. Petit's wire-walk is the MacGuffin around which the stories pivot. It's not the story itself. I'm not positive, but I wonder if the book as a whole wouldn't have been stronger if the story about Petit's preparation for the walk (which I gather is wholly an invention of the author) had been omitted. That story did a reasonable enough job of keeping Petit mysterious, but I do think it was perhaps unnecessary.
Now for the criticism:
While each individual story is well-written and pitch-perfect in its style, the transitions between them can be jarring. A lot of other reviews have specifically mentioned the story about the computer hackers as being out-of-place. For me, it was the highlight of the book, and the staccato, machine-gun delivery was one of the best pairing of character and style of the books. Having said that, it is so dissimilar all of the other stories, I can see why it jumps out at people, especially since it's located toward the middle of the book.
Finally, the last story, with its jump to present day, with the required references to Iraq, Afghanistan, 9/11, and Katrina was completely unnecessary. I think I understand the intent, to tie everything together in one final vignette, but it just didn't work.