A Novel Hanging by Many Threads

Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann


image via goodreads.com 


This is about as complex a novel as you’re likely to find these days. That’s not praise, exactly, but neither is it a complaint. It’s about New York City in the grander perspective, probably why it was honored with a National Book Award.  And it’s written disjointedly, in the stylish structure of Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Thomas Pynchon. Another thing in its favor in the book award sweepstakes. 

It begins with an Irish man looking for his brother in New York, the brother some sort of sidewalk saint, who, well, does what he can for the down and out. In and out of this story walk many characters: several hookers, some office workers, a Guatemalan nurse, a judge, and a high-wire daredevil, to name a few.

The book’s coherence, as much as it exists, concerns a man walking a tightrope between the two World Trade Centers, as New York collectively looks on. Incidentally, McCann’s dialogue between the watchers is some of the most vivid I’ve read, and that’s definitely a compliment. Imagining this guy's high wire act almost gave me vertigo. 



image via vulture.com

McCann juggles his memorable characters admirably, his dialogue is taut and evocative, and  his prose often sparkles. The pitfalls with this sort of story are those of coherence and detail. His strung-together story often hangs by one of several threads, but in the end, he makes it work. Still, all too often there are details to the book's goings-on, to the characters’ lives, that take us nowhere but deeper into minutiae. Maybe that's New York fer ya.


My rating: 15 of 20 stars




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