Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" follows the lives of a group of individuals immediately before and after Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Although the book does not feature Petit as one of its central characters, the lives of all of the main characters intersect with Petit's walk in a key way, creating a neat puzzle around the event. The book looks at people from all walks of life in NYC in the 1970s--from Bronx hookers to a Park Avenue matron. As the lives of each of these people comes together you wonder who will survive this vicious city, where people and souls seem to be eaten alive.
This was the first work I had ever read by McCann, and wow, was I impressed. McCann is a master storyteller and the way he weaves words together creates such vivid pictures, you feel like you can smell the smoke from the burning Bronx. While this novel wasn't my typical style--it is much darker and rawer than what I typically read--McCann's literary gifts can only leave a reader in awe. I did have a few problems with the structure of the novel--the jumping from character to character sometimes felt jumpy and abrupt, but I think this technique was intended to jar the reader--mimicking the realities of life in 1970s New York. The ending also felt out of place to me.
While this is not exactly light summer reading, I would definitely recommend this book to fans of great english literature. This work has marked McCann as one of the greats of the modern world, and I can't wait to see what else he produces.
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