Thursday, May 27, 2010


Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann, Random House Inc, 2009, 349 pp

 I was completely blown away by Colum McCann's 2003 novel Dancer, a fictional account of Rudolf Nureyev's life. Let the Great World Spin won the National Book Award in 2009 and got scads of glowing reviews, so I was excited to read it. And it was good, with some of the strengths of Dancer. McCann makes you love his characters because he finds the spirit beneath each one's faults and troubles. He clearly exults in New York City and has discovered its essence though he was raised in Ireland.

 One of my issues with this "novel" is that it is in fact a collection of short stories tied together by a time period and a group of characters. The book opens in August, 1974, when Phillippe Petit made his famous balletic tightrope crossing between the Twin Towers. The event is used as a symbol throughout the book and as a unifying device between a large group of characters who range from an unorthdox street priest to a few prostitutes to a Park Avenue woman. I am not a fan of short fiction and throughout my reading I was aware of the author's method of construction; he was too much there.

  Which brings me to my other issue: novels about 9/11. Though it has been almost a decade and though it must be an irresistible subject for authors who live in New York, for some reason almost every novel I have read with 9/11 as the central idea has made me just a tad queasy. Maybe it is just too soon to put that debacle of human insanity into art; maybe it is the relentless news coverage, the images from which still pop up uninvited in my consciousness; I just don't know. It all makes me squirm.

 Now that I have gotten all that off my chest, I can say that I did find myself drawn in to these characters' lives and their interactions. In fact by the end I cared quite deeply for the priest and the three generations of prostitutes. Unfortunately I did not like the final scene at all. I don't even like the review I have written here. It feels clunky, just as the book did. Worst of all, the reading group where I could have discussed all this did not meet, ostensibly because too many members were ill or out of town, but possibly because no one finished the book. Ah well. It is just one book among thousands.

(Let the Great World Spin is available in paperback on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. Anonymous4:52 PM

    Hi Judy:

    I read about a hundred pages and do intend to finish. I think the prose is beautiful and I did not actually think it was disjointed. I was surprised to learn it was a series of short stories, though that explains the chapter lengths. Maybe that's because I tend to be disjointed at times. I will finish it and then we can discuss.

    I like what I've read so far.

  2. Oh yes. I need to discuss this with someone and I think you would be best, Lisa.

  3. Have you read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer? I thought it was fantastic. And Falling Man was very compelling as well - and I'm not a Delillo fan, so it surprised me.

  4. Foer's book I completely loved. It is reviewed somewhere here on this blog. But it was the kid and the grandmother that made me love it. Falling Man is the most well done 9/11 story, in my opinion, that I have read. Now that you mention it, I may have been comparing Let the Great World Spin to that as I read. Both authors were going after a similar emotional idea.