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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
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Let the Great World Spin (2009)

by Colum McCann

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4,4192661,108 (3.98)483
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Showing 1-5 of 255 (next | show all)
I could re-read this book and maybe enjoy it more the second time. It took some time for me to appreciate the way the book was structured. The writing style is understated. It wasn't until I was 2/3 of the way through the I really started to appreciate the depth of the book. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
(23) I had previously read 'Transatlantic,' and thought it was decent. Had heard that this novel was better (the best) of this Irish author's work. This is New York city in the early 1970's when the Twin Towers were first built -- a tight-rope walker manages to string a wire between the two buildings and walk across (true story!) that I remember vaguely hearing about. This is the backdrop for the novel. In the reviews it says something about this being a post 9/11 NY novel, but indeed the attack is only mentioned once elliptically towards the end of the book as one character contemplates a (real) creepy photo of the tightrope walker with a plane in the foreground that looks like it is about to hit one of the towers.

Anyway, the writing is fairly good. A kaleidoscope of characters who all end up being connected in some way. The most interesting is Corrigan, a priest of sorts who likes to live life on the fringes helping the lowest among us. He befriends a group of strung out prostitutes in the Bronx until a tragic accident. I can't help feeling a bit of distance to McCann's characters - I felt this in 'Transatlantic' as well. Given the detail and the access McCann gives us, I feel I should empathize with them more. Some of the interludes felt a tiny bit pretentious. I guess I don't have a love affair with New York City. It bothers me when authors/artists ascribe more poetry and importance to the people and happenings of New York city than they deserve. Frankly, if you are going to write a post 9/11 NYC novel then write it , already - don't dance around the subject. Maybe this is unfair as perhaps it was not the author's intention, just some critic's assignation.

It felt a bit long, truth be told. While I liked the surprises that each new chapter brought us in terms of a new point of view and a new connection between characters, I was ready for some definitive ending which I never really received. It seemed the most interesting characters died early on. Overall, a worthy reading experience but not quite as much payoff as expected for the investment in the characters. ( )
  jhowell | May 7, 2017 |
What a wonderful book!

Colum McCann's lyrical description makes for a beautifully heart-wrenching novel. To quote Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series, "You're gonna suffer, but you're gonna be happy about it".

The story takes place in New York in the 1970s, revolving around Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. It weaves through the everyday lives of many individuals in a chorus of first person narratives, gradually drawing them together as it progresses. The true magic of the story is McCann's ability to vividly illustrate the emotion and passion in ordinary lives. It's a treasure.

Sidenote: I was overjoyed to read in the author's note...

"Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told."
-Colum McCann ( )
  hungrylittlebookworm | Mar 27, 2017 |
I loved this novel until the final section, which I thought tried too hard to wrap things up neatly and drive home its own relevance for the present. Still, I thought the voices sounded authentic, the prose was lyrical, and I loved how the stories converged as the novel progressed. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
I listened to this and was mesmerized most of the time. If you saw me at the gym with earphones and my mouth hanging open, it was me, listening to this book. Crammed with heart and soul, unforgettable characters, rich, generous. Wonderful wonderful book. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 255 (next | show all)
This is an exceptional performance by a writer whose originality and profound humanity is evident throughout this highly original and wondrous novel.
 
The lousy feeling that you’ve been duped into buying a bogus product increases as you read Let the Great World Spin, and like all chintzy things manufactured for tourists, the book can’t withstand the slightest amount of tensile pressure. Apply a little scrutiny to the artistic decisions being made, and worse and worse details appear, from the awful prose, which ceaselessly pitches and yaws between staccato bursts of words and breathless run-on sentences, to the gaudy, exhibitionist displays of grief. But tackiest of all is the way that McCann deals with his African-American characters, who come off as nothing more than anthropological specimens.
 
It is a mark of the novel’s soaring and largely fulfilled ambition that McCann just keeps rolling out new people, deftly linking each to the next, as his story moves toward its surprising and deeply affecting conclusion.
...
Here and elsewhere, “Let the Great World Spin” can feel like a precursor to another novel of colliding cultures: “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe’s classic portrait of New York in the 1980s. But McCann’s effort is less disciplined, more earnest, looser, rougher, more flawed but also more soulful — in other words, more like the city itself.
 
Gritty yet hopeful... in terms of sheer lyricism, McCann pulls out all the stops. My review copy was an absolute mess of Post-its and marked passages by the time I was halfway through.
 
A book so humane in its understanding of original sin that it winds up bestowing what might be called original absolution... a pre-9/11 novel that delivers the sense that so many of the 9/11 novels have missed.
added by jjlong | editEsquire, Tom Junod (Jul 8, 2009)
 
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Epigraph
“All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be,
they are everywhere. That is what the world is.”

—Aleksandar Hemon,
The Lazarus Project
Dedication
For John, Frank, and Jim.
And, of course, Allison.
First words
Those who saw him hushed.
Quotations
I knew the Catholic hit parade - the Our Father, the Hail Mary - but that was all. I was a raw, quiet child, and God was already a bore to me.
"With all respects to heaven, I like it here."
"But see, this logical God, I don't like him all that much. Even His voice, He's got this voice that I just can't, I don't know, I can't like. I can understand it, but I don't necessarily like it. He's out of my range. But that's no problem. Plenty of times I haven't liked Him. It's good to be at a disturbance with God. Plenty of fine people have been in my place and worse."
There are moments we return to, now and always. Family is like water - it has a memory of what it once filled, always trying to get back to the original stream.
The war was about vanity, he said. It was about old men who couldn't look in the mirror anymore and so they sent the young out to die. War was a get-together of the vain. They wanted it simple - hate your enemy, know nothing of him.
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Book description
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 McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

Let the Great World Spin is the critically acclaimed author’s 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, McCann’s powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the “artistic crime of the century.” 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 “fiercely original talent” (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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A rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s. 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 gathers 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. A 38-year-old grandmother turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth. Weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann's allegory comes alive in the voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the "artistic crime of the century"--a mysterious tightrope walker dancing between the Twin Towers.--From publisher's description.… (more)

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Colum McCann chatted with LibraryThing members from Mar 1, 2010 to Mar 14, 2010. Read the chat.

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