Let the Great World Spin
By Colum McCann
One early morning in August 1974, a man walked a tightrope strung between the newly built World Trade Center towers. Whether New Yorkers saw him or not, they continued toiling through their day. The eleven people who narrate this novel include a lapsed monk and his brother, a mother and daughter perpetually on the stroll, a group of grieving mothers, and a judge made cynical by the everyday evidence of human cruelty. A surprising twist unites these disparate characters in a way both transformative and hopeful.
Let the Great World Spin won the 2009 National Book Award, and I think rightly so. However, although this novel was well written, I didn’t enjoy it very much. The writing reminded me of that by James Joyce; I do not like the comparison. McCann’s descriptions swirl around and around, using repetition and a stream of consciousness like style to create a whirlpool of words that suck the reader down. In addition, his characters were largely unsympathetic. Perhaps he did his job too well and wrote too realistically. Their choices in life were not to my liking, whether it was breaking a vow, going on the stroll, or excessive drug use. Even the twist at the end of the story did not redeem the harsh drudge of details throughout the rest of the 300 odd pages.
Nonetheless, I am glad that I read this novel. It has been called “the first great 9/11 novel”¹ and “a scene stealing spectacle”² . Despite my dissatisfaction with his writing, McCann is a very good storyteller. It was a relatively fast read with few dull spots.
I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy a strong setting, multiple narrators, and award-winning novels.
¹”The first great 9/11 novel” –Esquire Magazine
²”…A scene-stealing spectacle that’s hard to tear your eyes away from…and ends as stunningly as any novel I can remember. McCann’s power — his language, his human understanding, his vision—holds us in an embrace as encompassing as the great world itself.” –Margaret Sullivan, The Buffalo News