Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the Great World Spin: A Novel By Colum McCann

I didn’t want to like this book, which won rave reviews in 2009, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps I had this preconceived notion that it would be about Philippe Petit, the young French tightrope walker who in 1974, illegally rigged a wire between the World Trade Center Towers, and walked, hopped and toodled his way back and forth for nearly an hour. If you haven’t seen the Academy Award winning documentary, “Man on Wire,” which includes excellent film footage of everything from Petit’s youthful days of tightrope walking, to the blow-by-blow of the harrowing and historic walk that made him famous, go rent it. It is really very good.

Let the Great World Spin is rather about the lives of ordinary people who walk the tightrope of life every day, just like us. McCann begins the book with stunned crowds on their way to work, stopping to marvel and gawk at Petit, just a tiny speck in the sky, weaving back and forth between the towers, above the fray of life, but McCann then quickly gets to the spectacles going on below.

An Irish monk trying to provide non-judgmental compassion to hookers on the street whose lives are extraordinarily strange yet familiar in that life-is-life way, a jaded Park Avenue Judge who coincidentally presides at Petit’s trespassing hearing, a group of mothers morning the loss of their sons in Vietnam, young artists whose lives are in a confounding flux of dream and disillusionment - some of their lives intersect and some don’t, but McCann unfolds the drama in writing so insightful and piercing that it makes you want to cry. This is one of those books that is so deliciously written that it almost doesn’t matter what the point is or if there even is a point. And I’m not sure this book had a point, other than the fact that in spite of what is going on above us, the great world continues to spin, and that is just fascinating stuff.

Have a great weekend.


1 comment:

  1. This is a brilliant book; lyrical, poignant and powerful. It is that rarest of books, the kind that you know will reside inside you for a very long time and will have changed you in some profound way that words can not address. It is a book that, when you reach the last page, will leave you feeling stunned and not sure whether to take a deep breath to digest it all or turn to page one and begin all over again.

    In this novel, the inter-connectedness of people and events is played out in a way that could be interpreted as either eerie, spiritual, or just plain chance. New York is there, always, in the background. It is a city of crime, love, hate, justice, peace, war and beauty. The city is personified to contain just about every human emotion I can think of. The people are a part of this city and they, too, are a mixture of good and evil, beauty and ugliness. As McCann says in the book, people can be half good sometimes, a quarter bad at other times, but no one is perfect.