Who would’ve thought that in this craze-filled city, on an early morning in 1974, most every New Yorker would’ve stopped what they were doing to turn their heads and see, 110 stories above them, a man walking a tightrope from one twin tower to the other? Philipe Petit spent forty minutes dancing on air with a smile on his face, as if he were telling a joke to the world, proving that life is equally absurd as it is beautiful.The only other moment in the last few years that has been able to capture that kind of attention, especially in New York City with it’s unstoppable ambition, was when those twin towers fell. The comparison of those two awe-occurring moments, though not explicitly, is at the outset of Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann. The novel begins, “Those who saw him hushed.” Immediately, there is a quiet suspense in the language, and on the morning of 9/11, New Yorkers, along with everyone around the world, with their eyes glued to the television, hushed also. We saw those buildings blaze, then crumble, then gone.
That sort of feeling, the drop of the stomach, is present when you read Let The Great World Spin. Not because it leaves you feeling vapid, but because there are hard punches in the narrative, emotional undoing
s, and devastating degrees of faith that support the pillars of love and loss that seem to sway and crumble at their own accord. By using Philipe Petit as a focal point, McCann somehow suspends the present in a way that makes one evaluate the country’s cultural climate. And the composition itself, of the 1974 phenomenon and the fall of the Twin Towers, is beautiful. What is so admirable too is how human transcendence, ach
ieved through the stories of this inter-mingled cast, echos the lives of people experiencing life in the present: sons at war, the economic downfall, a distrustful government. The overlap is a sort o
f hologram, and the result is a heartbreaking literary work.
The cast offers different points of view and the structure as a whole is built like a collection of short stories. It is bound together by two Irish brothers named Corrigan and Ciaran who find themselves in the middle of New York meeting prostitutes, artists, housewives and judges, all of whom become effected by the state of the nation during this one day when a French man dares to defy all reason and walk onto a line of impossibility. I absolutely loved this book.
Colum McCann received the National Book Award for Let The Great World Spin in 2009 and currently teaches at Hunter College.
Reviewed By Mario A. Zambrano