Wednesday, June 23, 2010

If it is going to Spin, could you make it faster?

I guess you live inside a moment for years, move with it and feel it grow, and it sends out roots until it touches everything in sight.
Let the Great World Spin: A NovelAfter reading rave reviews of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, I decided it just might be the book for me.  Drew obliged my fancy by purchasing it for me for my birthday.  I just now (a couple weeks later) got around to reading it.  For those who haven't heard, the story revolves (I use that term loosely) around the high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the funambulist, Phillipe Petit way back in 1974 and the lives of the people of New York.

How I feel about this book is a little complicated (the reaction I think McCann must have been working towards) - it is not a bad book, but it is not a book that I would recommend highly.  It may be a book for you.  It was a section of a book for me.  McCann seemed to hit his writing stride about two-thirds of the way through the book.  Much like Anita Shreeve's The Weight of Water (reviewed here), there are small sections of this book that are perfect.  Other parts of the book have great turns of phrases, some of the time.  Other phrases seem contrived, like he was attempting to be clever, to be deeper than he really is.  Also of annoyance was the extended use of fragments and repetition (At times I felt like I was listening to certain Alanis Morrisette songs on repeat).  The result is  tedium -  a desire to be at the end, to be finished with the multi-layered story.  I finally got there. 

It seems I have read a lot of modern authors lately who prefer to tell their stories in layers.  It is not an altogether bad thing, but it can be a little disjointed.  I find myself comparing the level of writing in each narrative.  Some sections are written better than others; and, by comparison, the rest suffer.  In this book certain characters seem almost unnecessary (i.e. the graffiti obsessed photog., the computer nerds from California); like McCann wrote them, became attached to them, but forgot to attach them to the rest of the story. 

For the characters that do connect with one another, there are many similarities to their stories - linking them, showing them to be part of the human experience.  Each character has a life defined by decisions made.  The decisions can be as distinct as taking priestly vows or taking a stroll (prostitution); or they can be as similar as taking the rap on a hit-and-run or going to prison for a loved one for a robbery.   Thus, each of the characters must live with the choices, some are driven to drink, some to suicidal thoughts,some to death.   There is a sadness that pervades the narrative due, not just to regret, but also to the inevitable consequences of self-determination. 
New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook is soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.
The story, told with the hindsight of the events of 9/11, is saturated with what could only be described as references to the events of that day. The above quote speaks to that. Additionally, the sadness of not being able to climb to the heights of the towers that once were is expressed here: "Sometimes you've got to go up to a very high floor to see what the past has done to the present." McCann includes a reference to the lack of a memorial at Ground Zero:

He had said to his wife many times that the past disappeared in the city. It was why there weren't many monuments around...nobody felt a need to lay claim to history. Why bother? You couldn't eat a statue. You couldn't screw a monument. You couldn't wring a million dollars out of a piece of brass.
What is left, and what is the point of the book, is the memory of individuals. The memory of the early morning high-rise walk of a slight man with cops crying out to get him to stop. The memory of the moment choices were made that changed the course of a life. The memory of when everything was just as it should be. Before. And how transitory those moments are. The world spins on but the memories are what endures.

Rating: 4.5 out of 7


NOTE: A friend of mine mentioned she picked this up on audio book.  I might give this a try because it may help with the tedium of the fragments and repetition.  Anybody heard this audio book?


  1. I picked this book up 2nd hand and TBH I doubt I would have brought it new. I normally quite like books that have different characters telling their part of the tale so I might like this slightly better.

  2. Wow... this was really an awesome review. I wouldn't say I'm overly eager to read LtGWS now, but I am pretty curious! PS: Found you through the Hop and am now a new follower!

  3. Hmm, I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Great review, though!

    from Une Parole

    P.S. I found you through the Hop!

  4. I found you through the hop. I have been wanting to read this for a while, but I don't know now.

  5. Sorry to put people off the book. I know others who loved the books. Books are so subjective!

    Jessica: I would put it on the procrastination shelf if I were you. You can get around to it someday (and you may love it!), but there are better things out there.

    Katie: Thanks for the compliment on the review! I will stop by your blog and check you out too! Thanks for the follow.

    Emidy: I wasn't so sure how I felt about it either. As, I said my feelings are has moments of brilliance amidst moments of regularity.

    amandawk: Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Hello. I just stopped by via The Hop. Interesting concept to be reading as often as you are and then blogging about it. I wish I could read more often. Anyway, good luck to you in your endeavour. I'll have to come back and see what you're reading.
    Take care.