Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin
I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is a still point where the present, the now, winds around itself and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive. You can close your eyes and there will be a light snow falling in New York, and seconds later you are sunning upon a rock in Zacapa, and seconds later still you are surfing through the Bronx on the strength of your own desire. There is no way to find a word to fit around this feeling. Words resist it. Words give it a pattern it does not own. Words put it in time. They freeze what cannot be stopped.

Reading Let the Great World Spin, it was not hard for me to see why it won the National Book Award. The structure and thematic elements are brilliantly done. I could feel the pulse and energy of New York as I read, the juxtaposition of the tight rope walker Phillipe Petit suspended above time, while the city beneath him seethed with the anguish and struggles of the everyday life of its citizens.

Let the Great World Spin is not the story of any one person, but it's the story of a city, of lives intersecting through time. It's told at times in first person, at times in third person. Sometimes it's the story of a Irish monk living in the middle of the city's most desperate citizens facing his own "wounded faith" his own struggle with God. Sometimes it's about the guilt of a bad decision, or the war mother who has lost her child forever. All the while, it's also the story of a city at one point in time.

This is not light reading, it's quite heavy and at times it felt like a fair bit of work to get through. There were moments of sheer beauty in the writing...not beauty in the lyrical way, but rather in the way truth reaches out and grabs you while you read, almost leaving you breathless. I certainly felt great affection for some of the characters and less interested in others, which I suppose, is the risk of a book like this.

This book is about time, about how events exist both wholly in and of themselves but also that they have a beginning and an end. Each moment in time has steps that lead there, and this is illustrated in the walk across the wire. And yet, at times, even though we each play characters in each other's stories, there are times we feel as lonely as a man on a wire above a world that is spinning.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Quite a bit of profanity, and some sex
Source of Book: Received from publisher for a tour with TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Random House


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