Monday, March 29, 2010
Book #5: Let the Great World Spin
Finally! It only took a MONTH AND A HALF, but I finished Let the Great World Spin! What an accomplishment.
First of all, let me point out the cover of this book. The picture above is what the book cover looks like when it's open -- very neat. Note the tightrope walker. If you're one of those people who judges a book by its cover, then you'd love this one.
I cannot say enough about how unbelievably talented Colum McCann is. This book is told from the perspective of several different people from all walks of life. Each chapter has a different narrator. You would swear that a different author wrote each chapter. McCann is able to completely transform his writing style with each character, remaining true to the heart of each one while still creating a lyrical, beautiful story. What struck me the most about this book is how McCann makes you feel each one of the characters so vividly. It's impressive that all of this can come in one book from one author.
The link between these several characters is Philippe Petit, an actual tightrope walker who really did walk a tightrope between the World Trade Centers in 1974. Let the Great World Spin takes this real-life event and uses it to inspire a story that is now hailed by some as the greatest "9/11" book that has been written thus far. The story is set in the days surrounding Petit's tightrope walk, with each of the characters having some connection to the spectacle. (In most of the characters' cases, they actually witnessed the event.) It's really about so much more than that, though. Each of the characters has a story -- an extremely religious Irishman, a ritzy Park Place resident whose son died in Vietnam, a drug-addicted artist, mother-and-daughter prostitutes, a struggling Hispanic nurse... These people are from all walks of life, yet are still connected by a moment in history (and, as it turns out, many other things).
That's why this book is such a wonderful New York City story: people from all walks of life, connected by the city. I get that. I get that this book celebrates the spirit of New York. I get that the tightrope incident happened at the World Trade Centers. I get all that. What I don't necessarily "get" is why this is known as an amazing 9/11 story. Yes, it's about the World Trade Centers, and yes, there's an element that elicits very strong emotions about the incident. I just don't see it as a 9/11 book. I think it should be celebrated for what it is -- a brilliantly executed book about the City. I don't think 9/11 defines New York City. It united it, and it strengthened it, but it doesn't define it. This book speaks volumes about New York City without even mentioning 9/11, actually.
All in all, this book was wonderfully written, and heart-wrenching at times. It's certainly an emotional, poignant piece that is well worth the read. Not entirely sure that it's marketed correctly, but, really, what difference does that make? There were some elements that dragged a bit, and a few loose ends I would have liked to see tied up, although I don't think a sequel would work at all. If you're looking for a good read, pick this up, for sure, but not if you're looking for something breezy and light. This is heavy and deep, but worth it.
Since I had such an issue finding the time to read and finish this, I've decided to go with something a bit different -- When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. Sedaris' signature style of comedic essays should make it easier to pick up for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, as opposed to a novel that I want to read for an hour or more at a time. Also, I'm taking this opportunity to tell on Derrick, because he finished Pygmy days ago and still hasn't written a review. MAN UP, D!
Read February 14, 2010 to March 28, 2010