I didn't so much "read" Let the Great World by Colum McCann as "experience" it. And what an experience it was...
The novel portrays an imaginary chain of events unfolding around Philippe Petit's actual high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974. We meet the Park Avenue judge who hears the case, his grieving wife and other members of a group mourning sons lost in Vietnam, heroin-addicted Bronx prostitutes (including a mother-daughter duo), an Irish radical monk and his brother, young artists, and even computer geeks from California.
I started out listening to the audio version of Let the Great World Spin. It features seven readers, and the story unfolds from multiple points of view. These narrators offer wonderfully distinctive voices, which are especially effective as some sections are told in the first person. After listening to the first couple disks, there were passages I wanted to reread and questions about the novel's structure to be answered, so I borrowed the book from the library. From that point, I listened in the car and read on at home in the evening.
I remain in awe of an imagination that can plot such intricate stories and then weave them together with a common thread.
"We seldom know what we're hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only it's memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant." (page 47)
"I don't know who God is but if I meet him anytime soon I'm going to get Him in the corner until He tells me the truth.I'm going to slap Him stupid and push Him around until He can't run away. Until He's looking up at me and then I'll get Him to tell me why He done what H done to me and what He done to Corrie..." (page 230)
"I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is still a point where the present, the now, winds around itself, and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive." (page 279)
The final section takes place in 2006. The events are looked upon with a post- 9/11 eye.
"A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don't fall apart." (page 325)
"The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough." (page 349)
Indeed! I loved Let the Great World Spin, and can certainly see why it won the 2009 National Book Award for fiction. Highly recommended.
A note of caution: DO NOT read the Publisher's Weekly summary on Amazon. It contains spoilers.
FTC disclosure: The audio was purchased from audible.com. The book was borrowed from the library. It's overdue - I want to keep it.