Book Review: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

September 6, 2010
Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann is a series of well written short stories, which ultimately get intertwined. These fictional stories happen around the cultural touchstone of Philippe Petit stringing a cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and walking the distance, to the amazement of the people below.

The book begins slowly as we are introduced to two Irish brothers on the other side of the Atlantic; Corrigan, a soon to be monk, and his brother Ciaran who has no goals or aspirations. The brothers find themselves in The Bronx where Corrigan takes several prostitutes under his care, brings them coffee and allows them to use his bathroom between tricks.

The story expands as the brothers’ story crosses aging prostitutes, as South American nurse, a Park Avenue housewife, a budding artist who left her rich Southern family to create art up north and several others.he news that Petit walked between the two towers have eclipsed that of the Richard Nixon resignation and the Vietnam War – even though both are lurking in the background and raising their ugly heads every now and then. McCann uses the tightrope stunt as a way to tie all the separate stories to a memorable day, Petit is not even mentioned by name in the novel. The problem is that it all seems forced, as if the author had a bunch of short stories laying around and added some a few paragraphs to tie them all in a neat package to be bounded up and put on the shelf.

McCann uses different voices, styles and speeds while shifting between the stories. Some work better than others as new people keep appearing, each one inevitably linked to the past and the future. That makes a strange mosaic of not only storytelling, but also quality of the writing as some stories are much better than others. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant passages in this book, but they get bogged them.

I forced myself to finish the book, I wanted to find out what was so great about this book that it made the “best of…” list every time. What I discovered was an interesting story, sometimes frustrating, which often seemed more like a rough draft than the finished masterpiece it was promised to be simply because the stories aren’t told to the reader, they are being explained.

Let The Great World Spin” is not horribly bad, but not really great either. The stories are amusing but, like the high wire act which they all reference, half are good and the others splash on the pavement. The author is very capable of beautiful prose; however he takes a very long time to say nothing.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I borrowed this book
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Summary
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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

10 Comments

  • Greg Zimmerman September 6, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Good review – what specifically frustrated you about it? I know some other readers have had a similar reaction.I gotta disagree with your assessment that it felt like a first draft, though. To me, it felt so carefully crafted, each word so carefully chosen, that it read like one of the more polished novels I've ever read. I'm in the camp that includes it on my Best of 2010 reads so far. Here's my review for the reasons why I loved it, if you're interested: http://thenewdorkreviewofbooks.blogspot.com/2010/

  • BookQuoter September 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I read the synopsis of this book, and knew I would not want to read it. I have seen a lot of good reviews, but I was not convinced. I like your last line. It speaks volume.Thanks for your review.

  • Rose City Reader September 6, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Drat! I am not a fan of short stories. I have more tolerance for the stories-as-novel format, but not much. I will still read this because I am fascinated by that tightrope thing since i saw the movie. And because I am reading all the National winners.Please don't forget to leave a comment with a link to your review on the Battle of the Prizes, American Version challenge and I will add it to the list.Thanks, again, for participating.

  • Coffee and a Book Ch September 6, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    I'm not usually a fan of short stories — I tend to find that sometimes I'm left a little wanting of a bit more, or that it can be a little confusing because some things are skipped over. Interesting insight and fabulous review on it!

  • Valerie September 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I have this book waiting in my TBR. I have heard of it referred to as stories of people….but this is the first I've heard of it being "short stories". they are interwoven, though, aren't they? Hmmm… hopefully soon I'll have the chance to get to this one to see what my impression is!

  • Man of la Book September 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Valerie, yes the stories are interwoven somewhat. If I had to compare the book to anything it would be the movie "Crash".

  • Alyce September 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I've seen a lot of rave reviews for this book, so it's been on my wish list for a while. I'm hoping I like it, but at least I've been forewarned that it's not a sure thing. 🙂

  • Kim (Sophisticated D September 9, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Interesting review. I've read lots and lots of good things about this, but I didn't realize the structure for some reason. Sorry it wasn't great, but I'm still pretty intrigued by it.

  • Rose City Reader September 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks for participating in the Battle of the Prizes challenge! I added a link to your review on the main challenge page.

  • RyanSt.Onge December 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I see your point about this book, but I’m still leaning toward the “really liked it” side. Sometimes stories are just stories and that’s all there needs to be.

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