Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review of the Day: Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin is a collection of short stories that form a novel centered around Philippe Petit’s 1974 high wire act between the Twin Towers of Manhattan’s World Trade Center. Petit’s remarkable performance was real and paints a bittersweet, nostalgic backdrop for the fictional stories of a dozen or so seemingly disparate characters who all, it turns out, are connected.

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.

(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.)


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.

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