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Random House Trade Paperbacks, 6/2010
The cover blurb for Let the Great World Spin, from bestselling author Frank McCourt, reads: “Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking heartbreaking symphony of a novel?” Frankly, I’m more concerned about myself right now, for what can I possibly read next that won’t pale in comparison to this ambitious, beautiful, breathtaking book.
If you’ve watched the lovely documentary, Man on Wire, then you’re familiar with the dazzling feat of Philippe Petit, an ordinary man who, in August 1974, walked a tightrope wire between the World Trade Towers in New York City. Using this extraordinary act as the touchstone to which he returns over and over again, McCann has written a novel about ten different individuals, each walking their own metaphorical tightrope. Set in New York, all of the individuals’ stories (an Irish immigrant, a man of God, an heroin addicted prostitute, a mother mourning her son, a young wife and artist, and a Park Avenue judge, among others) intertwine, all told in the shadow of the man on the wire.
This is a significant social novel about the radically changing America of the 70s. It’s a quiet novel about the daily lives of ordinary people. It is a quintessential New York novel, pulsing with the characters and noise and beauty of The Big Apple. It’s a novel about faith and Vietnam and forgiveness and right and wrong. It is as big as a man attempting to walk in midair, and as small as a man putting one foot in front of the other.
One could argue what the central theme of this multifaceted novel is, given the kaleidoscopic nature of the narrative. But it is difficult to escape the sense of loss that permeates every page, as much from the knowledge that the Towers no longer stand, as from anything that the author has written on the page.
I fell in love with this book within the first five pages. I was afraid to read further for fear that it would disappoint me. It didn’t. Ultimately, McCann dazzles.
Recommended by Allison