87. Let the Great World Spin- Colum McCann


Title: Let the Great World Spin

Author: Colum McCann


On the Shelves: Fiction> Contemporary


An American masterpiece from internationally bestselling novelist Colum McCann—a dazzling and hauntingly rich vision of the loveliness, pain, and mystery of New York City in the 1970s

In the dawning light of the late summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. . . . It is August, 1974, and a tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter-mile in the sky. In the streets below, ordinary lives become extraordinary as award-winning novelist Colum McCann crafts this stunningly realized portrait of a city and its people.

Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among prostitutes in the Bronx. A group of mothers, gathered in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn the sons who died in Vietnam, discovers how much divides them even in their grief. Further uptown, Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenaged daughter, determined not only to take care of her “babies” but to prove her own worth.

Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful novel comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the tightrope walker’s “artistic crime of the century.” 

McCann’s most ambitious work to date, Let the Great World Spin s an unmistakable and triumphantly American masterpiece (Goodreads 2014)

I picked up this book because the synopsis reminded me of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. I enjoy books which explore how different people affect other’s lives without even meaning to. I loved the idea of it and it has sadly been sitting on my shelf for a year. But I finally picked it up to read it. In “Let the Great World Spin”, McCann focuses on a specific day in 1974, in New York City. Arguably one of the most crowded cities in the world. If it is anything like my own city, you will know that people never take the time to look at the people around them, not properly. They also never look up at their own skyline.

Today, they look up. They all stopped and gasped and looked up. Because one man was walking across a tightrope between the World Trade Centre buildings. For those of you who don’t know- this is an actual historical event. A frenchman named Philippe Petit, dared this life-risking stunt. They actually made a documentary about it in 2008, “Man on a Wire”.


Trailer for Man on a Wire (2008)

Anyway, Let the Great World Spin, follows the lives of a few of the crowd who looked up on that day to watch this stunt. Of course, that is where the fact ends and the fiction begins, each character (as far as I am aware, anyway), is fictional.

This book didn’t read like I expected it to. I can’t say I enjoyed the characters at all, and because it was like a group of short stories I didn’t form any sort of attachment to any of the characters. Something about it just didn’t gel with me like I’d hoped it would. I’m not sure what I was hoping this story would do, but it fell short for me. I enjoyed McCann’s writing to a point, but the pacing felt very slow and I was struggling by the second half of the book to even want to finish it. Something about this book just didn’t agree with me, and it’s annoying me because I don’t know what it is. It’s certainly an interesting premise, I just think that maybe it could have been done a little better.

The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough


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