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.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.
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:
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.
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.
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?