Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

811d3lwuvtlFiction – print. Random House, 2009. 349 pgs. Purchased.

In August 1974, New Yorkers awaken to find a mysterious tightrope walker is traversing between the Twin Towers on a wire suspended a quarter mile above the ground. No one knows who the (wo)man might be; no one knows if this is a sales stunt or a suicide plan.

In McCann’s novel, though, the tightrope walker is not the focus. Instead, the performer’s daring feat serves as a backdrop for exploring the lives and emotions of a cast of characters, including a well-to-do woman from Park Avenue mourning the death of her only child in Vietnam and an Irish monk living among mother-daughter prostitutes in the middle of the Bronx.

Each chapter alternates between the characters, slowly explaining how their lives are interconnected. The relationship between those featured in the odd-numbered chapters are clear: the brother of the Irish monk, the woman whom the monk struggled to keep his vows of chastity with, the sex worker who takes a plea deal to save her daughter from jail time yet loses her in the same accident that kills the monk.

It takes time, however, to uncover the relationship between the mourning mother, who is featured in chapter two, and the monk. The jump from one to the next was so jarring that I put the book aside after a bit so I could adjust my expectations and mourn the loss of a character I’d come to love in such a short time.

Eventually, these individual stories pull together to prove that people all more interconnected than they originally think, that a wealthy woman in Manhattan can have connections to the poorest in the Bronx. Connections that are deeper and more meaningful than watching someone perform on a tightrope between two towers.

Beyond the message, I loved how clear and distinct each character’s voice and viewpoint was. Their stories are hard to forget, hard to shake even after I moved on to other stories. And McCann writes in such a beautiful, lyrical tone that spending time with his novel was a real treat, despite the somewhat heavy, depressing content.

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