Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: Let the Great World Spin

Author: Colum McCann
Format: audio book 15+ hrs, 400 page equivalent
Subject: life in all its aspects
Setting: New York - 1970's
Genre: Fiction
Source: Public Library
Challenge: Support your public Library; audio books

Winner of the National book Award

I haven't always liked books that come with this or that Award sticker on the front.  But this one came with high praise from several people whose reading taste I respect.  The first available copy I could get my hands on was the audio, and it did not disappoint.  Read by 13 different voices, they really brought the story to life.

The story theoretically is pinned to Phillipe Petit's famous tightrope walk across a wire stretched between the Twin World Trade Center Towers in April 1974.  But it really highlights the lives of a variety of people living down below.  We see the Judge who will eventually have to arraign Petit after he is arrested at the completion of his walk.  We watch his wife and her grief group as they meet together to try to cope with the loss of their sons in Vietnam.  We see the lives of prostitutes and their pimps, spray painters in the subways, a priest working with the prostitutes, as well as his brother who has just arrived from Ireland, artists high on drugs and low on money, and single parents working to support their children. We see blacks, whites, Christians, wealthy, poor, educated, illiterate, atheists, jews, and hispanics, all inter-related in a city of millions.  The brilliant writing eventually ties all of these lives together through thought-provoking acts of redemption and humanity.

I recently attended a workshop where the speaker said "When talking about the characters in a book, remember that Language itself can often be the leading character."  This book is lusciously obese with language. The imagery, the emotions, the seemingly disconnected fragments that mesh so seamlessly are brilliantly sewn together with words so simple and exquisite that the reader is often compelled to sit back and take a deep breath.

While I did not intend that this one be counted toward my reading for the Vietnam War Reading Challenge, I found that the Vietnam experience and the emotional impact it created, was another major player in the story. The survivors, the protesters, the draft dodgers, are all present, and the national psyche's open wound is apparent as life spins along in this colossal city.  My one regret is that I do not know the city of New York better.  I did not have the experience I know others had who are well acquainted with the various geographic locations depicted in the story.  In the end, the vast panoply of personalities is the true story.  Life goes on down on city streets, and in the subways, even with tight-rope walkers up above.  In fact, the wire walker is in the end a rather minor character.  I guess that really says it best -- when a man walking a rope stretched  between the Twin Towers is only a minor story, you know the rest of it is really special.

1 comment:

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