Saturday, January 26, 2013

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann: A Review

Let the Great World SpinLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 1/2 stars. If I were rating this novel exclusively on its prose, I would give it five stars. the language is hypnotic at times, evocative of the city whose stories it tells. However, I found myself frustrated a bit with some of the novel's larger elements.

The novel opens with a glimpse of the streets below as a tight-rope walker traverses a line stretched between the Twin Towers. It is 1974. The novel then offers chapters dedicated to a myriad of characters who all, in some way, had a connection to the city during this momentous event.

While I thought McCann did a marvelous job capturing the voices of each of these characters, I did not find myself connecting in any significant way with any of them. (As soon as I began to feel a connection with a character, another character was introduced.) I understand that this episodic set-up is likely designed to give us glimpses into many lives. If so, I think a collection of short stories would have been more satisfying.

As soon as the connections between the characters started to be made, I was simultaneously relieved and irritated. I was relieved, because suddenly there was structure where it seemed there was none. But I was irritated because some of these ties were simply too coincidental; it felt contrived. (I am thinking primarily of Gloria and Claire...and the judge and Tillie.)

McCann writes, "It had never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected." Here is the secret of this story...the metaphor that McCann is striving for...exemplified by the tightrope walker.

I wanted to love this book, but ultimately appreciated the author's efforts more than the story itself.

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