What an Interesting World.

Dealing with the themes of love, loss and the great balancing act that is life, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin aims to give hope and perspective. Spin has a complex, interwoven narrative spanning the course of fifty years and two countries. It brings together characters from different social classes, schools of thought and moral suasions, intertwining their stories with grace, humor and poignancy.

Set predominantly in the 1970’s, the story loosely revolves around Philippe Petit’s spectacular tightrope crossing between the World Trade Centre buildings. (I highly recommend watching Man on Wire, the fascinating documentary of this event.) His willingness to seek out the beautiful in the mundane is a central theme in Spin. The walker, as he is referred to, brings beauty and unpredictability to an otherwise normal, dreary New York City morning. This concept is reflected in the religious Irishman trying to help prostitutes in the Bronx and the nervous teenage boy looking for graffiti in the subway tunnels.

As represented by the funambulist, the characters in Spin who take risks are rewarded; those who remain content with a status quo life are mocked. All of McCann’s protagonists are unsatisfied with the norm and either choose to circumvent it or resent their inability to do so. The people are not remarkable in and of themselves (with the obvious exception of a man who walks on a tightrope hundreds of metres in the air…) but their actions often are. There are large acts of courage by those who are remarkably ordinary.

There is a sharp bittersweet quality to Spin: happy lives are tainted with tragedy; sad lives are brightened by moments of pure delight. Love, loss, compassion, apathy, anger, denial and hope are explored within each story. I found some stories more compelling than others and wish McCann had fleshed out certain characters. Occasionally, you get the feeling that the author is very pleased with himself for being able to write as many story lines as he has, with little details connecting just so, but my quibbles are minor  as this really is an excellent work. You don’t have to go run out and read it right now, but put it on your list. You won’t regret it. In fact, here’s a link to the first portion of the book, just to pique your interest.


~ by foodNURD on August 9, 2010.

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