Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: "Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann

I’d really like to read a short story collection by Colum McCann, I’m sure it will be much better than the novels he writes. In fragments, they are great, astounding even. He is a master at pathos, sadness and redemption, and every person he inhabits as the author has a distinct voice. But sewn together as a cohesive unit as they are in his National Book Award winning novel Let The Great World Spin, they come off as an intricately orchestrated mess. If these disparate narratives were just allowed to exist on their own in separate universes, this would be a book I would laud praise on. But together, it is quite silly and saccharine, with McCann using the singular event as a cheap way to gain our emotional trust without really earning it. The centerpiece for this novel is the famous walk of Philippe Petit, who strung up a wire between the World Trade Center buildings and performed death-defying feats for the onlookers in the streets below. Around this framing device, we meet two groups of people. The first are the Corrigan brothers, John and Ciaran, who grew up in Ireland. John, the younger one, seems destined for sainthood, and leaves for New York to start his mission, with Ciaran soon joining him after their mother dies. Into this picture come a couple, down on their luck after a failed movie career, who make a fateful mistake that has repercussions that extend decades beyond the 70’s. The walk has very little to do with the events, but on their own they are enthralling and tense, and adding another layer to the tragic set of circumstances comes off as manipulative. The parts that are good are good in a grand way. McCann has the chops and deserves some kind of recognition. He doesn’t need parlor trick to do so.

Rating: 4/5

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