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  • Writer's pictureDonna

Intertwining stories set in 1970s New York explores the lives of very diverse people.

Ultimately, a tragedy connects them all.

Let the Great World Spin book cover art

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

Award: National Book Award

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2009, 351 pages

As you start reading this book, you might think you’re reading a collection of short stories, although the chapters are quite lengthy and really put you into the lives of these people. Then the people start overlapping into the other story lines and you discover how they are tied together in tragedy. Ultimately, I liked the way it all pulled together and the impact each of the individuals had on others in the story. One of the best surprises I feel I shouldn’t reveal here is a relationship that develops between two of the characters who are involved in that tragedy and find something good from it together.

The opening chapter is about a man on a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers and on the streets below people start to notice and stare upwards. The second chapter is about two Irish brothers who come to New York. One who becomes part of an Order, seeks God, seeks the right thing.

“He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it.”

In chapter 3 we meet a Park Avenue judge and his wife (Claire) who are grieving the death of their son in Vietnam. And we get a first glimpse of the four women that Claire meets with, also grieving their deceased sons. An interesting statement came from Gloria, one of the ladies from Claire’s meeting group, as she’s talking about an event in her past, and says:

“I gave them all the truth and none of the honesty.”

That made me stop and think and realize how that could be true. While the Judge character was not initially that interesting, I was surprised at how some of the other characters showed up in his story line.

Chapter 4 brings us a young married couple who leave the scene of an accident where a girl dies, and maybe the driver too? Later, we’re also introduced to mother and daughter hookers! Their world was very unpleasant, not surprisingly, and probably not my favorite read; however, the mother certainly had sass.

I couldn’t figure out the point of another character who rode the subway taking pictures of “tags” (graffiti on the walls). He disappeared after that one chapter and his story did not mesh with any of the others. If you've read this book, did you notice this also?

McCann’s writing style was different. He had LOTS of short sentences. Many were just phrases – It was Thursday. It didn’t rain today. The sun shone bright. Somehow it made the book read very fast. I found my eyes just whipping through these short lines. If you don't mind storytelling that takes some time to come together as a whole, I think you'll like this book.

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