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This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann
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This Side of Brightness (1998)

by Colum McCann

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Update, 8/17/2011: You know, maybe my Colum McCann expectations are too high. I mean, I can't expect him to replicate Let the Great World Spin every time. That's just not fair.

Apparently I need to read this, like, yesterday. Tell that to the stack of books on my bedside table! ( )
  cat-ballou | Jan 22, 2014 |
Update, 8/17/2011: You know, maybe my Colum McCann expectations are too high. I mean, I can't expect him to replicate Let the Great World Spin every time. That's just not fair.

Apparently I need to read this, like, yesterday. Tell that to the stack of books on my bedside table! ( )
  cat-ballou | Jan 22, 2014 |
colum mccann is a poet. he weaves together the lives of very different characters leading very different lives, bringing them slowly together until we see their close connection. as he did in "let the great world spin," he displays a wonderful gift for language, offering turns-of-phrase that make one pause to re-read a passage, so to savor the stunning beauty of his writing. the stories are compelling, the characters interesting, and watching them move through their lives, and waiting for the moment when their connection is revealed, is a wonderful journey. highly recommended. ( )
  zenhead | Jan 3, 2012 |
Colum McCann is the first author I discovered through LibraryThing. I was surprised to find his books in the bookstore, and bought several, of which This side of brightness is the first I finished reading.

Unfortunately, this was rather a disappointment. The opening chapters are very strong indeed, but retrospectively it is a bit ironic that these are based on a real event, taken from the newspaper archives. Nonetheless, I suppose, brilliantly fictionalized. However, the rest of the novel is a foul-mouthed rant, rather hard to follow the story-line and aging of the characters over time. I could not make much of it, and barely lost interest, as nothing much happens. ( )
  edwinbcn | Oct 3, 2011 |
An unfortunate tunnel digging accident in the early 20th century under the Hudson River in New York brings one of the survivors into the world of the family of a man who was lost on that day. The young black man who survived the tunnel blowout makes weekly visits to the family of his friend and eventually winds up marrying their daughter whom he has known since she was a baby. The trouble is that she is Irish and he is black, which indirectly places great burdens on the next two generations that follow.

It is an achronological narrative. It jumps all over different time periods within two main framings—that of Nathan Walker’s life in the past, and that of Treefrog’s current life. The framed sections begin to overlap through the progression of Nathan’s story, and flashbacks from Treefrog’s story but the reader is never lost (not very long anyway) as far as whose story is being told.

The entire book is very well-written and chapter fourteen is just a pleasure to read. I lost myself the most in those pages. Just a magical piece of writing that both pushes the narrative toward its climax and reveals little mystery after little mystery like presents on Christmas Day. ( )
1 vote JosephJ | May 29, 2011 |
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Epigraph
We started dying before the snow and, like the snow, we continued to fall. It was surprising there were so many of us left to die.

- Louise Erdrich Tracks
Dedication
Fore Siobhan, Sean, Oonagh and Ronan
And, of course, for Allison
First words
On the evening before the first snow fell, he saw a large bird frozen in the waters of the Hudson River.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312421974, Paperback)

This Side of Brightness weaves historical fact with fictional truth, creating a remarkable tale of death, racism, homelessness--and yes, love--spanning four generations. Two characters dominate Colum McCann's narrative: Treefrog, a homeless man with a dark and shameful secret, and Nathan Walker, a black man who came north in the early years of the century to work as a "sandhog," digging the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. Tunneling is perhaps the most dangerous occupation a man could have; in the close, dark, and dangerous pits far beneath the city streets, differences such as color or ethnic background cease to matter, and Walker soon becomes friends with his crewmates: two Irishmen and an Italian. Then an explosion in one of the tunnels literally blows Walker and three other men up through the earth and into the East River. Walker survives, but his best friend Con O'Leary is never found. Leary leaves behind a wife and young daughter whom Walker marries many years later.

Walker's tale is told in alternating chapters with Treefrog's, who, before his slide into homelessness, chose a hazardous profession--this one high up in the bright sunlight--as a construction worker building skyscrapers. But madness has brought Treefrog out of the light and back to the tunnels that Walker helped dig as he scrapes out a meager existence among the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, and petty criminals that make up the homeless community. But the grimness of McCann's tale is leavened by the beauty of his prose and the intimations all through the book that, even on this side of darkness, redemption is possible.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:45 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

When an Irish immigrant is killed, building the 1910s New York subway, a black co-worker supports his family, marrying the widow. The story is contrasted with today's subway, a place not of hope, but despair.

» see all 2 descriptions

LibraryThing Author

Colum McCann is a LibraryThing Author, an author who lists their personal library on LibraryThing.

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Author Chat

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

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