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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin (2009)

by Colum McCann

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English (234)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  German (2)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (244)
Showing 1-5 of 234 (next | show all)
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 |
E' davvero un mondo che gira, un mondo che ci scorre sotto gli occhi tutti i giorni, di cui tuttavia raramente riconosciamo le sincronie, gli aggiustamenti, gli incastri, e abbiamo bisogno di questi irlandesi con il dono del raccontare, per ricordarcelo. Una spaventosa città di sottofondo, bella e sensuale come un girone infernale, accompagna e sottintende questi racconti - che forse altrove avrebbero avuto collocazione più infelice. Alcuni bei personaggi; anzi, forse tutti. Grande capacità narrativa di McCann; libro intelligente e solido; grandissimi i punti di contatto tra le storie. Poi, tra tutto, un pezzo di Storia.

http://youtu.be/uEU7lrtehDs ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Although it’s impossible to know what a given writer feels when he writes a given sentence or paragraph or page — or even an entire chapter if he can do it in one stretch — you, as a reader, know it once you’re caught up in the flow. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of “writer’s Zen zone,” and it’s frankly better than any other high I can imagine.

It’s not hard to imagine that Colum McCann spent quite a number of hours in that zone while writing Let the Great World Spin. Yes, it’s that intoxicating — at least to this reader.

I can think of any number of contemporary writers whose prose I’ll risk calling “exhibitionistic.” But McCann’s prose is not that. He’s simply on fire — sometimes for long stretches — and you can almost feel the heat coming through his fingers onto the page and up into your eyes. My only suggestion? Drink plenty of water and sit next to an open window when you decide to read Let the Great World Spin. And then, let yourself spin away with it.

“But it struck me, as I sketched, that all I wanted to do was to walk out into a clean elsewhere” (p. 153). In isolation, this sentence may sound hyperbolic at best, ludicrous at worst. But given the events that preceded it, this sentence struck me as the perfect exit to the penultimate section of the chapter titled ‘A Fear of Love.’

Is Colum McCann a stylist par excellence? Read the chapter titled ‘Part of the Parts’ (pp. 247 – 274), and you tell me. And if you didn’t know the word ‘funambulist’ (as I didn’t until this novel), you can find it on p. 250 — and elsewhere in the book. I now have to wonder whether the prefix fun- (‘funis’) has some darker implications for our English word ‘fun.’

“The thing about love is that we come alive in bodies not our own” (p. 250) is the kind of sentence that gives one pause. Such sentences are not written in haste — or if they are, then I can only conclude that this author knows far more about the world and life than I ever will.

How that same writer can, with equal dexterity, get inside the head of a (sub-)Deegan Expressway prostitute and that of a Circuit Court Judge and write not only their dialogue — but also their private thoughts — is indeed something of a miracle. Yet Colum McCann pulls it off to nothing short of miraculous effect — with these two characters, certainly, but also with a host of others.

Is there an occasional Oops! in Let the Great World Spin? Well, on p. 334, we read “(l)ike there might some secret…”. There were other omissions early on, but they were easy enough to ignore in light of McCann’s story-telling art.

I frankly don’t know how else to describe the accomplishment of Let the Great World Spin than to call it HUGE! If you as a reader like your narratives nice and linear, this work probably isn’t for you. If you prefer a single POV — first-person or third-person or omniscient or any single point of view at all — you also won’t like it. There are a number of stories going on here, most of them concurrently, yet they don’t necessarily lead to a nice, neat The End.

I don’t know how (or why!) Colum McCann could follow this novel up with a second, third or fourth — unless out of some silly compulsion (or maybe just to get back into the zone). In any case, I can’t imagine his improving on this one. It’s simply ne plus ultra.

And yet, maybe Colum McCann himself gives us the answer on p. 359 in ‘Walking an inch off the ground.’ “But stories are there to be told, and each story changes with the telling. Time changes them. Logic changes them. Grammar changes them. History changes them. Each story is shifted sideways by each day that unfolds. Nothing ends. The only thing that matters, as Faulkner once put it, is the human heart in conflict with itself. At the heart of all this is the possibility, or desire, to create a piece of art that talks to the human instinct for recovery and joy.”

Go then in search of both—and find them in your reading of Let the Great World Spin.

Brooklyn, NY

( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 234 (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.
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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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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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