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Let the Great World Spin (2009)

by Colum McCann

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5,0722911,471 (3.97)509
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 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. 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. The city's people are unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the "artistic crime of the century"--a mysterious tightrope walker dancing between the Twin Towers.--From publisher description.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 280 (next | show all)
This started slow for me, but got better. Wish I would have read the author's note (at the end of the book) before I read the novel - I think I would have appreciated the story more if I had known his motives at the beginning. ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
The idea of a book about a city - a metropolis at that - raises all sorts of questions. I was raised when artistically cities were known for their anonymity - individuals are like a drop in the ocean. Cities allow people to build their own little universes around their own needs, tastes and desires, populated with like minded people. It meant that it did not matter what your neighbours were doing, and they just like you, lived in their own little universes. It often meant people did not know their neighbours; people living in the one time and space could have nothing in common. So how do you write a book that captures the spirit of a city? McCann tries in this book.

Let the Great World Spin is essentially a book of short stories with a thread or two weaving between a few of the stories, held together by a tightrope walker that symbolises city life - a dangerous balancing act that finds meaning in the intent and dedication of the actor. McCann has this great talent of drawing you into his stories - his writing is beautiful and compelling. You are lead to understand their worlds and you feel for them. For the tightrope walker, the Monk, the prostitutes, the artists, the judges, the grafitti artists, the upper east side housewife, the black woman in the Bronx and a long way from more humble Tennesse roots. They are loosely linked together by the Vietnam War and the tightrope spectacle, and in their interactions bring meaning to their lives.

Yet despite these wonderful elements I did not feel satisfied with the outcome. I appreciated the artistry of the author more than the stories he told. There is no centre to the stories to make the effort of reading worthwhile.

Maybe that is the message of the city. ( )
  motorbike | May 11, 2020 |
This is a beautifully written book that is not at all what I was expecting. First off, for some reason, I thought this was going to be nonfiction and it's not. Truth be told, I bought the audiobook without even reading the description. I'd just heard so many people talking about what a great book it was and it was on a sale. I ended up being impressed with the way Colum McCann was able to tell all these interlocking stories with one common theme - they each happened around the tightrope walking between the Twin Towers.

I almost wish I'd read this book as at times I got lost in the audiobook. I wouldn't realize that narrators had changed and would have to rewind a bit to find out what happened. All the narrators did a wonderful job and one of them (whose name I couldn't figure out) did an amazing job. But I still felt like I missed something by doing an audiobook. ( )
  melrailey | Apr 7, 2020 |
In the early chapters this feels almost like a collection of short stories, with each chapter seeming to have little connection to the others. However as the book goes on, the stories of the various characters come together. This is full of lovely, absorbing characters and writing that is wonderful in parts (if a bit overwritten in others). The conceit of the tightrope walk is clever and does something that in all probability it should not have done - it works. ( )
  DebsDd | Mar 19, 2020 |
This book reads slowly; not a bad thing, but more a reflection of the depth & nuance of the characters expressed in the writing. Because the story develops through chapters narrated by different people talking about different points in time, I had a little trouble making the first couple of jumps from chapter to chapter. Eventually though, the jumps became easier to understand and to make. With all of that said, by the end the book was very satisfying and I felt a little warm & cozy from having read it.

The common link among all the books' characters is the amazing and true tightrope wire walk between the World Trade Center towers in New York accomplished by Philippe Petit in 1974, and this is where the book begins. The walk is used not as a causal factor in the lives of the characters, but instead as a concrete point in time against which to place their much broader stories. The internal stories are told from the perspective of and about a wide variety of people from different parts of the world, in dramatically differing economic and social strata, and unexpectedly their lives intersect in ways that are unpredictable but never feel contrived for the purpose of the book. ( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Mar 18, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 280 (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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“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
For John, Frank, and Jim.
And, of course, Allison.
First words
Those who saw him hushed.
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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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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