I have a lot of friends who read and suggest books to me. This book was suggested by a number of people and reviewed glowingly on Amazon and on other websites. It sat on my shelf for a long while but I finally read it and finished it recently.
McCann takes a real-life event--Philippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers (World Trade Center) in New York--and then weaves a number of different tales about people who saw the walk or crossed paths with the walker (or each other) in some way. The characters are in the book are from different age groups, races and economic levels, even different countries--a support group of mothers who who have lost sons in the war, a group of hookers and the Irish monk who lives among them and tries to save them from themselves, and the judge who hears the case of the tightrope walker (since he did the walk on the sly, without any permission from the city, it was considered public endangerment at the very least). Family relationships are often at the core of the stories--the Irish monk and his brother, mother and daughter hookers, mothers who lost sons in the war, and one of the mothers in the support group is the wife of the judge who heard the walker's case. Like Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, McCann takes seemingly unrelated people and knits their stories together, sometimes having them show up in the same place in the same time (such as the mother & daughter hookers who happened to be in the same courtroom when the walker's case was presented).
Unfortunately, I am not a person who sits down and reads for hours at a time and finishes a book in a few days. I read perhaps 15-30 minutes each night at bedtime, and always have at least 2 books going at the same time, so it takes me a good while to finish each book. Also unfortunately, this is the kind of book that suffers from a long read. I think I would have liked it much more if I had read the entire book in 3 or 4 days. As it was, it felt a little fractured to me...like I was reading a book of short stories instead of a single cohesive story with multiple characters.
That is the only reason I'm giving the book 4 stars vs. 5, because there is no doubt that the writing is good. The writing is, in fact, exquisite. This, too, slowed down my reading, because I'd hit a passage that just sang out to me and I'd have to stop and let it roll around in my brain a few times, like savoring a fine wine or an expensive piece of chocolate. As an amateur writer myself, finding passages like that is part of the wonderful gift of reading, and I don't like to rush past them.
What did you think of this review?
Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Colum McCann has worked some exquisite magic with Let the Great World Spin, conjuring a novel of electromagnetic force that defies gravity. It's August of 1974, a summer "hot and serious and full of death and betrayal," and Watergate and the Vietnam War make the world feel precarious. A stunned hush pauses the cacophonous universe of New York City as a man on a cable walks (repeatedly) between World Trade Center towers. This extraordinary, real-life feat by French funambulist Philippe Petit becomes the touchstone for stories that briefly submerge you in ten varied and intense lives--a street priest, heroin-addicted hookers, mothers mourning sons lost in war, young artists, a Park Avenue judge. All their lives are ordinary and unforgettable, overlapping at the edges, occasionally converging. And when they coalesce in the final pages, the moment hums with such grace that its memory might tighten your throat weeks later. You might find yourself paused, considering the universe of lives one city contains in any slice of time, each of us a singular world, sometimes passing close enough to touch or collide, to birth a new generation or kill it, sending out ripples, leaving residue, an imprint, marking each other, our city, the very air--compassionately or callously, unable to see all the damage we do or heal. And most of us stumbling, just trying not to trip, or step in something awful.
But then someone does something ...