Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Let The Great World Spin was a book club selection, which was enjoyed by all who attended, and it prompted a lively, intelligent discussion. The story is based on the lives of eleven characters on the day in 1974 when French funambulist, Philippe Petit, danced across a wire (tightrope) secured between the new twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York. It is a well-written, literary masterpiece with highly believable, three-dimensional (complicated) characters.
The characters are extremely diverse, and include an Irish immigrant “monk” with a heart of gold, a Park Avenue wife of a judge/mother of a son who was killed in Vietnam, a Guatemalan nurse, a young artist trying to kick a cocaine habit and living a 1920s lifestyle, a heroin-addicted street-walking prostitute and her daughter and two young children. There is also a chapter where seemingly unrelated characters in Palo Alto, CA—a group of pioneering computer hackers—find a way to contact payphones in Manhattan on the day of Petit’s performance, and try to get a live blow-by-blow account of the event from eye-witnesses. It’s a reminder to the reader of the state of technology at the time, and how different the world of 1974 was from today, when the event, no doubt, would have been broadcast on every television station and the Internet.
This prompted our group to discuss our own “day-in-the-life” experiences we had on Sept. 11, when we first heard of the attacks on the twin towers. Not surprisingly, everyone in the room watched the horrendous events unfold on television.
The high wire event loosely connects all the characters and it feels as though the lives are spinning and folding atop one another in unexpected ways. In spite of the darkness and at times, overwhelming grief associated with these character’s lives, the reader is left satisfied and reminded how different (and important) each life and each character’s personal story is.
I give this book my highest recommendation.
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