Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin is character-driven historical fiction written by Irish author Colum McCann, published in 2009. I bought this book at one of my local thrift shops for just a few cents. I liked the title and the cover and I saw that it had won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2009 and the International Dublin Literary Award in 2011.

The beginning is about two Irish brothers and it’s slow, there’s no action. Just a lot of back story. By page 65 I was getting board and wondered if reading this book was a good idea. And on page 67 there was finally some action and drama and the chapter was over three pages later. On to the next chapter with new characters, mostly women, who seemingly have nothing whatsoever to do with the characters of the first chapter. At first I thought these were going to be stories about the people left behind after a loved one dies. But it’s more than that. The lives of the characters are intertwined with each other and real historical events and this is revealed bit by bit as their stories unfold. The characters are mainly protagonists, most of them women. Tillie’s dialog, for me, is the most hilarious and on point, and yet tragic at the same time.

Let the Great World Spin made me tense and I could not relax after a certain point while reading it. It is more hardcore than the books I like to read with its expletives, drug use, prostitution and other crimes—it’s not glamorizing anything—but quite authentically depicting New York City predominately in the mid 1970s when at that time New York City was a very scary place. There is something else that happened in New York City in the 1970s that McCann uses to bring balance to his story, a performance by a tightrope walker between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and he is my favorite because of his genius, skill and his not worrying about what others think, like he doesn’t have a care in the world, so completely opposite of all the other characters in the book.

Unless I missed some connection there, the part with the programmers in California who hack the phones in New York City could have been cut. I kept waiting for something to happen and then was annoyed to find it wasn’t really useful, other than to tell the reader what the tightrope walker was doing.

I really like how McCann’s writes, with a lot of short, incomplete sentences. Usually they are internal dialog, minimal and to the point.

If you like history mingled with your fiction and you’re willing to go out on a limb with some hardcore language and situations, then go to your quiet place and start reading or listening.

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