In which an author deal with our modern national tragedy in a beautiful and simple way
Title: Let the Great World Spin
Author: Colum McCann
What it’s about: I think we could make an argument that every book written about New York after 9-11 is really about 9-11. With the possible exception of chic lit–let’s face it, it’s just shoes, magazines, and men whether it’s 1999 or 2011–every New York author, especially those who lived in the city at the time, is trying to find a way to talk about what happened. I’ve experienced the same thing, even though I wasn’t living in New York in 2001. We want to talk about it, and yet we don’t. It still makes us sad, or angry, or something, but we have to process it. Let the Great World Spin is Colum McCann’s reaction to 9-11. Instead of meeting the event head-on, he takes us back to the New York of the 1970s, a dirtier city rife with crime and drugs, dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam and the beginnings of the computer age. It’s also a time of growth, as the Twin Towers are the newest edition to the skyline.
At the center of the story is a historical event: tightrope walker Philippe Petit evaded security to rig a rope between the two towers and put on an aerial show for the pedestrians in lower Manhattan. Petit’s story has been better documented in his own autobiography or in the film Man on Wire, but McCann’s book takes a different approach, showing us the reaction of the New Yorkers below. There’s a young Irish monk, living in the projects in the Bronx and finding himself helplessly in love. There’s a mother and daughter who work as prostitutes outside his building. There’s a group of bereaved mothers who meet to speak about their sons lost in the war. There’s a bohemian artist trapped in a loveless marriage. There’s the judge who will sentence the walker for trespassing and reckless endangerment. Together, these people paint a picture of New York past and present. The story is deeply moving and very readable, an easily accessible yet poignant novel.
Would I recommend? Yes. For New Yorkers old and new, and those who love deeply personal stories.