Colum McCann won the 2009 National Book Award for this collection, the main storyline of which concerns an Irish monk on his own sacred mission to help a group of streetwalkers in Queens. A police roundup triggers a series of events that leads to tragedy but ends, ultimately, on a happier note. The monk, the prostitutes, his brother, his lover, a pair of campy would-be artists, a group of mothers mourning their sons dead in Vietnam, a criminal court judge, nascent computer hackers, and assorted others people the cast of this 1970s New York City variety show.
The collection is a little uneven: some of the various narrators’ voices are more authentic than others, several of the hand-offs seem overly choreographed, and the significance of Petit’s tightrope act as a unifying theme is vague. But overall, Let the Great World Spin is an exuberant and satisfying book.
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This was my National pick for the Battle of the Prizes, American Version challenge. I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout -- another collection of short-stories-as-novel -- for my Pulitzer prize pick. The challenge runs through the end of January 2011, so there is still time to sign up.