Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin is a novel which captures the spirit of an age – 1974, Nixon is about to resign, soldiers are home from Vietnam, the oil crisis is at its peak, and the technology of computers is on the horizon. It is also a reflection of the times we live in now with its examination of faith, art, love and belonging. With assured, empathetic, and energetic writing, this is a brilliantly crafted and engaging book.
The novel begins in August 1974 as a tightrope walker makes his way through the dawn light across the World Trade Center towers, stunning thousands of watchers below. Using the true story of Philippe Petit as a pull-through metaphor, McCann crafts a portrait of the city and a people. There’s Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, who struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gather in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn the sons who died in Vietnam – they soon discover how much divides them even in their grief. Further uptown, Tillie, a 38-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenaged daughter, determined not only to take care of her “babies” but to prove her own worth.
Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful allegory of 9/11 comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the tightrope walker’s “artistic crime of the century.” McCann’s most ambitious work to date, Let the Great World Spin has already been described as a triumphant American novel.