Review: Let the Great World Spin starts with a moment: a man, standing 110 stories up on the edge of one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. Across New York, people from all walks of life are being impacted by this single event, and their connected yet separate stories are what make up the narrative of this book.
I’ve wanted to read Let the Great World Spin since I heard about it in 2009. I’m in love with interconnected narratives, so this book seemed right up my alley, and for the most part it absolutely was. I feel like reading these connected short story type narratives is a puzzle, and that it takes an active reader, reading carefully, to pull everything together.
My favorite parts of the book were the sections I read first — I had time to really sit down and invest in the book. As I moved on, I could only read in snatches, which made the connected parts harder to piece together. I found myself forgetting characters or plot points or the moments of intersection, which I think took away from my reading experience. That’s not really a problem with the book, other than perhaps McCann could have been more explicit about the relationships… or I was just reading badly.
Even so, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. McCann has a lot of very different characters — an Irish priest, a prostitute and her daughter, a Park Avenue mother and a mother from a less-desirable place, the tightrope walker, a city judge, a nurse and her children, an artist and her boyfriend… and others, who all have some space in the book for their story. It’s hard, at first, to see how these people — from such wildly different places — are going to come together, but I thought the way it did was satisfying even if I was having a hard time pulling all the threads together.
Clearly, my brain is still on vacation, mixing metaphors about puzzles and strings to try and describe this book. In an interview at the end of my paperback edition, Colum McCann sums up I think the best part of the book, the way his different stories come together to form a portrait of a place by telling the story of it’s people:
I wanted it to be a Whitmanesque song of the city, with everything in there — high and low, rich and poor, black, white, and Hispanic. Hungary, exhausted, filthy, vivacious, everything this lovely city is. I wanted to catch some of that music and slap it down on the page so that even those who have never been to New York can be temporarily transported there.
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