Friday, May 14, 2010

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

400 pages
Published December 2009 by Random House
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

On an August day in 1974, one man has done the impossible. Philippe Petit has brought the city to a stand still as he performs an exhibition of funambulism. That is to say, Petit was walking a tightrope---between the twin towers of the new World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, others are doing their own tightrope walking.

Corrigan, an Irish monk living in the Bronx amongst the thugs and prostitutes is battling his own demons as well as taking on theirs. On Park Avenue, Claire is playing hostess to a group of women who meet to help deal with the loss of their sons in Vietnam. Tillie, prostitute and mother of teenage prostitute Jazzlyn, deals with the consequences of the choices she has made in her life and the chances she never had. And Lara, an artist who is involved in a car accident that has consequences far beyond anything she could have imagined.

It is no surprise to me that this book won the National Book Award--not just because it is brilliantly written but because it has all of the elements that make books award winning. It is sweeping story while at the same time being intimate portraits of people at a particular moment in their lives. McCann says in an interview in the back of the book that he wanted it to be "Whitmanesque" with everything in it--highs and lows; rich and poor; whites, blacks, Hispanics. It truly is the song of the city that he envisioned.

The book did have slow points for me. After falling in love with the book within fifteen pages, I felt like the next section, talking about Corrigan, dragged a bit and I had a hard time connecting to him. But then we were introduced to Claire and things picked up again for me. As a mother of nearly the same age, with sons about the age that her son was when he died, I could completely relate to her pain as she tried to move on with her life while dealing with a loss that I cannot begin to imagine. A chapter that involves a group of computer nerds hacking into the phone system to call pay phones in NYC to get more information about the tightrope walker they have just seen mentioned on the press wire, is light and funny. And then, bam!, McCann hits you with Tillie's story and it is heartbreaking.

McCann has an unusual style--there are no quotation marks, no indication of who is speaking in coversations--and it can be difficult to follow. Some of the subject matter and language may be difficult for some readers. And there were a couple of things that made me stop and wonder "would that have existed in 1974?" which took me, momentarily, out of the novel. But there was so much here that redeemed any flaws for me and Let The Great World Spin will almost certainly be amongst my top ten books of the year when it comes time to wrap the year up.

"A stupid, endless menu of death.

But death by tightrope?

Death by performance?

That's what it amounted to. So flagrant with his body. Making it cheap. The puppetry of it all. His little Charlie Chaplin walk, coming in like a hack on her morning. How dare he do that with his own body? Throwing his life in everyone's face? Making her own son's so cheap? Yes, he has intruded on her coffee morning like a hack on her code. With his hijinks above the city. Coffee and cookies and a man out there walking in the sky, munching away what should have been."
Thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be on this tour. For other reviews, please visit:

Monday, May 3rd: Stephanie’s Written Word

Tuesday, May 4th: S. Krishna’s Blog

Wednesday, May 5th: The Literate Housewife Review

Thursday, May 6th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Friday, May 7th: Luxury Reading

Monday, May 10th: She is Too Fond of Books

Tuesday, May 11th: My Friend Amy

Wednesday, May 12th: The Brain Lair

Thursday, May 13th: Diary of an Eccentric

Monday, May 17th: Book Club Classics

Tuesday, May 18th: Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, May 19th: Book Chatter

Thursday, May 20th: Evening All Afternoon

Friday, May 21st: Brunette on a Budget

Monday, May 24th: Ready When You Are, CB

Tuesday, May 25th: The New Dork Review of Books

Wednesday, May 26th: Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker

Thursday, May 27th: Nonsuch Book

Friday, May 28th: Caribousmom

For more information about McCann, this book and his other works, please visit his website.


  1. I've already added this to the tbr and I think I will love it.

  2. I fell in love with this book by about page 5. After the first section, I was a bit dismayed to find out that the book is really a collection of stories. I was sad to leave Corrigan as I found him to be so interesting, but then of course I was very happy when I realized that the stories collide at some point.

    As I read, I could not help but think of how it is in real life...when tragedy strikes. You are so absorbed with your own feelings, yet there are dozens of people around you that are affected in some way too. Some that you may never even know about.

    Spin will make my best books list as well.

  3. I got this book for my birthday, and since then I have been reading great reviews all over the place! I am excited to see this review and think that you did an excellent job with it. I hope that I end up loving it as much as you did. I am really looking forward to it!!

  4. This has been on my radar for awhile. I think your review has convinced me to read it.!

  5. This book was nominated at book club and I have to say I didn't vote for it. It just sounded boring. But after reading several good reviews about it I might have to give it a try.

  6. I really want to read this book! It sounds so awesome!

  7. I bought a copy of this a couple of weeks ago because I just couldn't resist after reading such great reviews of it. It sounds like an amazing story. I can't wait to read it.