Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Let the Great World Spin

Before I get into my review, I have to share a few images with you---

It always amazes me the variety of covers a book may have depending upon the country of its release.  Why the red-orange line drawing of the New York City skyline topped off by the tightrope walker on the U.S. cover, while Europe gets the guy doing the back bend or the man lying down on the tightrope?

When I first found out my book club was reading Let the Great World Spin for our November meeting, I was under the impression the book was about tightrope walking.  I guess that's a logical conclusion since there's a tightrope walker in all the cover art.  So when I started reading the book and the author opened the book with two Irish brothers Corrigan and Cieran, I kept trying to figure out who was going to end up being the tight rope guy.  It turns out the answer is neither.

Let the Great World Spin is set in Vietnam era New York City.  Corrigan is a member of a monastic order and he lives in the projects trying to help prostitutes.  His brother Cieran comes from Ireland to live with him.  The first seventy pages of the book sets up their relationship and Corrigan's relationship with others.  A tragic incident occurs at the end of the chapter.  I was waiting anxiously to see what happened next, but I didn't get to find out just then because the next chapter was about Claire.

Claire is a woman who lives in a Park Avenue penthouse who lost her son in Vietnam.  She's a member of a group of women who have all lost children to the war who periodically meet for coffee and breakfast.  It really was an abrupt jump for me.  What about Corrigan and Cieran?  What happened to them?  At this point, I was a bit frustrated with the author but decided to read on.  I didn't get to read anymore about Claire though because the third chapter was about Lara and Blaine.

The book continued this way---each chapter from a different character's perspective.  The one thing that seemed to unite them was them all seeing or hearing about a tightrope walker up on a line between the World Trade Center Towers.  The more you read, however, the more you find out that it isn't the tightrope walker who is connecting them all.  They were all already connected.

Let the Great World Spin is one of those books that when you finally realize what's happening (in this case, that all the characters are linked in some way) you can't wait to get to the next chapter.  I was a fan of the TV show Lost when it was airing and it had a similar format as this book.  In each episode, you would get some background on a character and then it would turn out that they're linked to someone else on the island.  It's the same situation here.  The author Colum McCann does an amazing job describing people and locations.  I'm not a person who normally can hear a character's voice in my head.  It's usually my own voice just reading the text.  While reading this book though, I actually felt like I could hear the characters speak.  He described New York City in such a way that the location actually became a character for me.  Because the characters develop more and more in each chapter (some that were mere supporting actors in the beginning get to tell their own story later in the book), you feel like you really know them by the end.  A hardened prostitute named Tillie becomes a grandmother desperate to see her grandchildren.  A rich white woman from the Upper East Side becomes close friends with a black woman from the Bronx.  A man can walk the tightrope between the twin towers and live.  Everything that is impossible is suddenly possible...or is it?  Ultimately, the book's message for me was that there is hope in all things no matter how dark the outlook is at the moment.

Even though it's the 44th book I've read this year, Let the Great World Spin is my favorite book so far.  It hands down beats everything else I've read and I highly recommend it.

I leave you with a line that comes near the end of the book that sums up the book's message for me:

"The world spins.  We stumble on.  It is enough."


The Reader said...

I am 50-50 on liking-hating books that follow this format, but the way you describe this one makes me want to read it. Sounds like the author did it well. Or, anything that bares any resemblance to Lost, even if just the format, can't be bad...LOL!

Adding it to my To Read list...

Jenny said...

Ooooh! I really want to read this now.

Harvest Moon by Hand said...

Sounds like a very intriguing book. I'm going to add it to my list of books to read.