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Let the Great World Spin: A Novel by Colum…
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Let the Great World Spin: A Novel (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Colum McCann

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4,8772841,457 (3.98)504
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)
Member:lauralkeet
Title:Let the Great World Spin: A Novel
Authors:Colum McCann
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2009), Edition: 1st Edition/1st Printing, Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Removed from Library, North American
Rating:****
Tags:read in 2010, fiction, swapped, american authors

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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2009)

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English (273)  Danish (2)  German (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Catalan (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (285)
Showing 1-5 of 273 (next | show all)
This was a gorgeously written book about remotely connected people living in New York in the background of Phillipe Petit's high wire act on August 7, 1974. Mr. McCann has successfully written from various viewpoints, each with a distinct voice and a unique beauty to their narrations. Especially effective were the ramblings of Tillie, a Bronx prostitute in jail, and Gloria, a divorced black woman who lost her three sons in 'Nam. Lovely writing, well fleshed characters, an altogether remarkable book. ( )
  carliwi | Sep 23, 2019 |
This is probably something like top-notch grocery store checkout literature. Seems like the kind of thing my mom would read in a book club? She wouldn't like this though; too boring.

One thing: McCann should absolutely avoid writing black characters. Being a white dude, I felt like this shit got pretty hairy a few times (the smart black hooker's jailhouse monologue [yes, really:] section in particular), and looking through the reviews I see I'm not the only one. Heard Billy Crystal's 'jazz man' routine? It's like that.

EDIT 4/20/10

I thought about it, and this crap is zeitgeisty. It won't age well, and for today's readers it will serve only as a cultural primer for a world too precious to exist. You ever read a book with a poorly written precocious kid? That type of character, in hindsight, feels like this entire book does in hindsight. Too goddamn glossy. Tiring. ( )
  Adammmmm | Sep 10, 2019 |
I changed the rating from two stars to four. Originally I read this as required reading as an entering NYU student, which I think is the reason I originally give it two stars (something about being required to read can be frustrating). I recently came across this book again, after seeing a trailer of the movie "The Walk" I was reminded of this book (the Walk depicts the 1970s tight walking of the twin towers). This book deserves more than two stars, it's poignant and emotional. I felt something after finishing it, maybe not joy or relief, but it invoked a stirring, which is all I can ask for from a good book. Thinking about one scene still makes me tear up; that of the judge in the bathtub, running the bath so no one can hear him grieve his son. Challenging. ( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
This book is an homage to the city of New York. It begins with a true historical event, when Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Great book on a series of related stories connected to 9/11 focusing on 2 Irish brothers and mothers who have lost sons in the war
  JoshSapan | May 29, 2019 |
Best book I've read in a couple of years. I won't state the obvious about the main character (hint: his initials; see pg. 155 in the paperback) because I do think it diminishes the power of this novel to name him. What did I learn from this book? Memorable characters - not just our favorite monk, but Gloria and Jazzlyn's mother, too - loving in unexpected ways. I want stories to do this for me: show me the truth, teach me how to have hope. At the end, when Jasslyn wants to know if her mother was loved and Corrigan (the core)'s brother dismisses the idea: how wrong he was. She was fiercely loved, the way God loves us. So the investment banker who talks of loss and lives safely but unfruitfully in his childhood home, married to someone who may or may not have been involved in his brother's death - either he denies love or doesn't recognize it.
Ironic how the judge is so focused on the case of the tightrope walker that he misses the story of Jazzlyn and her mother, walking a different, daily tightrope. He would have missed it anyway; he missed a big chunk of his wife's story. Where is our attention?

As I read, I'm taking notes when I just can't help myself: and here are the notes I took on a scrap of paper found in my purse, from the end of the novel:
Jasslyne was looking for a history of love, and J.C. did love her mother, not with the what one character calls that human flow of desire, not as I experience love, but nonetheless love. It was love without desire, a love which was exquisitely more than her pimps, johns and own mother did. JC's love even released her mother's love towards Jasslyn: what a miracle. ( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 273 (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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