Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Let the Great World Spin: a book review

   This latest book was suggested and loaned to me by my friend Desiree, one of our original four book clubbers. Hi Desiree! Thank you for this, I totally enjoyed it! She is an avid reader with strong opinions, and she always brings something interesting to the discussion table. So when she thought specifically of me for a title she had just finished, I paid close attention. And then I gobbled it up greedily. In a nutshell: this award winning and critically acclaimed novel was just as interesting and enlightening as it was beautifully written.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

(Thank you goodreads for this cover image!)

    Set almost entirely in 1970's New York City, Let the Great World Spin tells the stories of several seemingly unrelated characters who are like the spokes on a wagon wheel if the center of the wheel is this certain event: a renegade tightrope walker between the Twin Towers. Their lives begin to intersect more and more, and a history between them builds just exactly the way real life does. Telling you that much, though, does nothing to impart the book's magic.

   If you read this piecemeal, like I did the first third or so, you may not notice this at first, but ingesting several chapters at once will make it clear: the author writes in a perfectly unique voice with every single character. New vocabulary, new mood, new context, everything was new every time we moved to a new perspective. I could find none of the usual narrator's objectivity, and I loved it.

   A little bossy momma's warning: this is an excellent book, told truthfully and graphically. It is not suitable for children or young adults. Desiree, are you sure you're old enough to read this?? LOL Totally kidding.

   One other thing struck me about the pattern McCann built as the characters were revealed. Each one of them had a drive, something in his or her life that fully motivated will, pleasure, longing, and relationships. Some of those drives were healthy and some were certainly not, but under his creative brush, I have to admit that I could see the pull of each one clearly. The inertia or magnetism, even when it was negative. Career mobility, romance, drugs, charity, grief... These people had kinetic themes attached to their lives whether they liked it or not. That gave me a lot to think about you guys. What are your life themes?

   In addition to their actual life paths, these personalities also differed in how they viewed and interpreted the tightrope walker. An otherwise innocuous event sparked opinions in people and interactions between friends and strangers that were really insightful, really telling of the spectrum of emotions human beings are capable of displaying. And of course, we cannot help but see the intentional foreshadowing of the September 11th attacks on those same towers.

   On the back cover of Let the Great World Spin is a list of glowing reviews from various authors and publications. I'd like to share one that happens to express my own opinion succinctly:

"McCann's gift (is) finding grace in grief
and magic in the mundane,
and immersing the reader in these thoroughly."
~San Francisco Chronicle

   Exactly. Maybe that's why I liked it so much: finding grace in grief and magic in the mundane is what keeps me going. More than that, it's what fills the tiny gaps in life and what grows us from the inside out. Do you agree?

   While browsing for cover images, I happened to see that many sites are already dedicated to listing quotes from this book. I am not at all surprised. If this had been my personal copy I would have dried up two highlighters and a red pen by the end! Just for fun, here are some quotes I happened to really like myself (and no I didn't cheat and pull these off of someone else's list, these were collected along the way like wildflowers):

  • "Let this be a lesson to us all, said the preacher. You will be walking someday in the dark and the truth will come shining through, and behind you will be a life that you never want to see again."
  • "Genius, they called it. But it was only genius if you thought of it first. A teacher told him that. Genius is lonely."
  • "He said to me once that most of the time people use the word love as just another way to show off they're hungry. The way he said it went something like: Glorify their appetites."
  • "I wasn't sure if I hated her or not. Sometimes my mind sways between good and bad. I wanted to lean across and smash the glass and grab her nappy hair, but then again, she was looking after my babies, they weren't in some orphanage, starving, and I could've  kissed her for not giving them too many lollipops and rotting their teeth."
  • "He never saw himself in any danger or extremity, so he didn't return to the moment he lay down on the cable, or when he hopped, or half ran across from the south to the north tower. Rather it was the ordinary steps that revisited him, the ones done without flash. They were the ones that seemed entirely true, that didn't flinch in his memory."
  • "Now that he was gone he had a name again. Thomas. I wrote it in blue eyeliner on my bathroom mirror. I looked through it, beyond, at myself."
  • "Every time a branch of mine got to be a decent size, that wind just came along and broke it."
  • "Listening to people is like listening to trees- sooner or later the tree is sliced open and the watermarks reveal their age.  
  • "...she was tired of everybody wanting to go to heaven, nobody wanting to die. The only thing worth grieving over, she said, was that sometimes there was more beauty in this life than the world could bear."
   And just one more, possibly my favorite...

"Afterward, Gloria said to her 
that it was necessary to love silence, 
but before you could love silence 
you had to have noise."

   Please do try to squeeze this into your reading schedule soon, before they make it into a movie. Can you believe the weird timing? I finished the book the day that article there was published. 

   Anyway, it is a very well done 349 page illustration of humanity, and reading it will be time well spent. Please let me know what you think!

Thanks again Desiree!

1 comment:

  1. Looks like I have another book to read. Love the quotes and if that is how it's written, I'll love the book.


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