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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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English (236)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  German (2)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (246)
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On a warm New York City summer morning in 1974, an exceptional event is occurring. A young man has furtively strung a steel cable between the two World Trade Center towers and is performing an unauthorized high-wire act, 110 stories up in the air. Down on the ground, there are the usual multitude of ordinary events taking place that define daily city life. A group of women gather to mourn the loss of their sons in the Viet Nam war, albeit in very different ways. A mother and a daughter—both prostitutes in the worst part of town—ply their trade with a sense of resignation. A young priest, recently immigrated from Ireland, acts as a self-appointed guardian for these working women while battling severe doubts about his own devotion. A single mother works as a nurse to support her two young children while dreaming of becoming a doctor and falling in love again. A judge considers how to dispense justice in an increasingly constrained and hostile environment. A young couple who have recently fallen off the wagon after a lengthy period of sobriety make their way home by car, unaware of how their life is about to change.

Somehow, all of these story lines come together neatly in Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann’s masterful exploration of love and loss, hope and sorrow, and the myriad ties that bind us to one another. Written in the same kaleidoscope style that the late director Robert Altman used to make some of his best movies (e.g., Nashville, MASH), the author shifts perspectives, tones, and voices to great effect, employing the points-of-view for at least 10 different protagonists to tell his tale. Two of these narrative threads emerge as the most pivotal ones: the “backstory” of Philippe Petit, the real-life tight-rope walker who gripped the city’s attention for a few hours; and the saga of Tillie and Jazzlyn, the mother-daughter hooker team whose sad fate brings the novel very much back to earth.

Throughout the book, McCann’s prose is consistently amazing: lyrical, insightful, and deeply affecting. One thing that was truly extraordinary is how the author managed to make the Twin Towers themselves a central character in the story; during the passages involving Petit’s walk, I actually found myself reflecting quite a bit on the events of September 11, even though that terrible day was more than a quarter century in the future. Only time will tell whether the current regard for this novel will stand up, but it certainly deserves the acclaim that it has received so far. ( )
  browner56 | Mar 1, 2015 |
The best book I've read in the last five years. ( )
  Lightfantastic | Feb 19, 2015 |
Rating: 4/5

I must say that I don’t believe I have read a book with as many different stylistic forms of writing than this one. Every character had their own voice which actually helped keep the characters straight. Never once was I confused as to whether or not a different person was talking since they were all so distinct.

While I can see how the sheer amount of voices and characters could have easily become out of hand, I believe that McCann manages to bring the story together wonderfully through the event of the tightrope walking across the Twin Towers. Every story tied into this event which made it easier to see how these characters connected to each other and kept me fully aware of where in time I was since the majority of the story takes place on the same day.

Overall, I believe that McCann did a wonderful job of showing just how interconnected the world we live in really is, even if the connection is minute and how, like the tightrope walker, we are all trying to keep our balance in a topsy-turvy world, but with some luck and determination we will make to the other side. ( )
  kell1732 | Jan 25, 2015 |
I enjoyed this book; it took me two attempts and a book group selection to get momentum in reading; however, once I did, the writing was beautiful and the book was a surprising gem. In particular, I enjoyed the descriptions of the the city and especially the people of New York City; they are both beautiful and ugly, clean and dirty, indifferent and friendly ... all of the variants that describe the complexity of this wonderful city. The book is about 9/11, but in a way where the actual terrorist event/tragedy is never mentioned. The characters are as varied as the people of NYC, but are brought together by the other big event surrounding the two towers: Phillip Petit tight-rope walking between the two towers in 1974. It truly resonates of the city that I lived in when I lived there... and what we all witnessed after 9/11. ( )
  asawyer | Dec 31, 2014 |
I enjoyed reading this book. It is very lyrical and I felt the author was especially skillful at capturing his characters inner lives--their doubts, regrets, and desires. It interweaves several different strands all linked by the occasion of Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the twin towers. ( )
  jdukuray | Dec 31, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 236 (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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Original title: Let the Great World Spin
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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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