Thursday, February 18, 2010

A City On The Edge

The New York Times book critic, Jonathan Mahler, called “Let The Great World Spin”, “….one of the most, electric, profound novels I’ve read in years.” In Nov. of 2009 Colum McCann received the National Book Award for this wonderful novel.

On a summer morning in 1974 in New York City, Philippe Petit performed the amazing feat of walking a tightrope wire between the World Trade Center buildings, one hundred and ten stories above the ground. Colum McCann uses this event to pivot an incredible story about twelve characters who lived in New York on that day, some who witnessed the event and some who did not. The author’s characters are bound by the single common thread of the grief they have experienced in their lives.

The story begins with two Irish brothers living outside Dublin. They grow up and move to New York City. Corrigan, the younger brother, becomes a monk ministering to prostitutes and senior citizens in the Bronx. Ciaran, the older brother, comes to New York and can only find a job as the stereotypical Irish bartender in Queens. Their lives intersect with hookers, mainly Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn. Tillie is an incredibly memorable character, soul ridden with regret and guilt, but feisty, funny and smart. All of the characters have a connection----the hookers under the Major Deegan Expressway, the mothers who are grieving for their lost sons in Vietnam, the Guatemalan nurse who fell in love with Corrigan, the two drugged out artists who propel the story with their reckless indifference to life, and the New York City Municipal judge who gets to allocate the sentences that will lead to celebrity status and death. And, there are a group of “hackers” who can anonymously connect themselves to telephone booths across the country. Colum McCann allows us to see and understand that on that day in 1974, and everyday, that nothing stands by itself, everything and everyone seems to be connected. He skillfully, with beautiful, heartfelt writing, links each character as the story moves through that fateful day in 1974.

McCann’s characters are linked in their lives by grief but the story is one of love and redemption. Once again an author with a memorable story to tell shows us the resilience of the human spirit. “As the Great World Spins” presents New York City with all its grit, dirt, sorrow and thrills. In the aftermath of 9/11 Colum McCann portrays two little girls emerging from a Bronx housing complex and being rescued by strangers. He tells us, “That, for me, is the core image of the novel. That’s the moment when the towers get built back up.”

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