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“Let the Great World Spin” from the Notables List

Over the weekend, I finished “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann, continuing my project of reading through the 2010 Notable Books list. This one also won a National Book Award.

Excellent novel! It’s a series of stories that eventually weave together around the actual historical event of Philippe Petite’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. In an interview included with a Readers Guide to conclude the book, McCann acknowledges that this is a novel about September 11.

The stories include an Irish immigrant, a monk called Corrigan, who ministers to prostitutes. His brother comes to the U.S. and falls in love with a woman who is involved in the automobile accident that kills Corrigan and one of the prostitutes. Philippe Petit himself has a story. At first seemingly separately, a group of women gather to mourn the loss of their sons in Vietnam.  We learn that the group includes the woman who adopts the dead prostitute’s daughters, and another who is the wife of the judge who will process Philippe Petit.  They become close friends. In the final chapter, years later, one of those daughters returns to visit the judge’s wife, then near death. In countless ways, lives intertwine.

I admire this kind of plot creation. I love the idea of a novelist taking a public event and tying it to seemingly random people. I connected with these people. They seemed real, especially in the sense of wanting to do right and do well, and yet often falling short. Their encounters with and observations of each other added texture. Unusual for me, I didn’t find myself interested in only one or two people, wishing that the story would return to my favorites.

Readers who prefer more “gentle” novels may not choose this, due to the pithiness of the stories of the prostitutes and others. But I’d encourage those who just might take a chance–to take a chance!

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