Reviewed by Krista C.
Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin takes place on August 7, 1974, the day that Philippe Petit walked on a high wire between the two freshly built North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2009 and it’s easy to see why. Let the Great World Spin is an exquisite book, both touching and stunning simultaneously. This book is near perfect and thoughts sparked by the book still keep surfacing in my mind. To me, that’s a sign of a book to treasure.
The story places us squarely in the middle of the action, as ten observers of a fictionalized Petit watch the tightrope walker traverse the new urban canyon. By letting the different narrators tell their overlapping stories – nearly all of which take place entirely on that overcast August day – McCann interweaves short stories that capture the essence of a city at a precise place and time.
There is an Irish priest, an artist, a judge, a housewife, a prostitute, a nurse, and a few others characters, plus a sprinkling of the tightrope walker’s thoughts and observations between the narrated stories. McCann unfailingly captures the tone and cadence of the thoughts and speech patterns of each of the dramatically different characters. Except for a short portion of the story set in 2006, Let the Great World Spin is a novel about beginnings, not endings. The first part of the book felt dark, but in the last half of this book, there is a growing sense of hope and strength.
Let the Great World Spin is a contemplative study without car chases or mysteries to solve. Instead, employ a touch of patience while you sit back and watch a masterful storyteller bring to life the many different people that inhabit a city. When McCann describes the cable used by the tightrope walker for his walk as having specially woven strands which provide better traction for the journey, the novel’s structure is clearly illustrated. The individual stories become the specially woven strands that hold the larger story together with amazing strength.
Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
A review copy was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.