Customer Review

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "He had seen a T-shirt once that said NEW YORK F-ING CITY. As if it were the only place that ever existed.", 19 July 2009
This review is from: Let the Great World Spin (Hardcover)
Philippe Petit's heart-stopping performance, as he walks between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, becomes the pivotal event of this magnificent "New York novel" in which Colum McCann examines many facets of the city's life. Focusing first on the down-and-outers--prostitutes, the desperately poor, the drug- and alcohol-addicted homeless, the infirm elderly, gang members, casual thieves, and bright young people with no futures--he recreates the lower depths of New York, a place where its citizens every day walk the fine line between survival and death on a completely different tightrope from that of Philippe Petit.

The novel begins with the arrival in the South Bronx of Ciaran Corrigan from Ireland, seeking his younger brother John Andrew, known simply as "Corrigan" or "Corry," a monk who has studied in Belgium and who now lives a bare-bones life among addicts and prostitutes in the projects in the South Bronx. Often the brunt of their jokes and sometimes of fists, he provides a way-station for the prostitutes who need a place to stop between tricks. Two of them, Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, have good intentions and great street smarts, but they are unable to escape their surroundings, which offer a much-needed quick buck and help them support Jazzlyn's two little girls--and her dangerous drug habit. Ciaran, afraid for the physical and emotional welfare of Corry, tries to persuade him to return home to Ireland, but Corry, in the midst of a spiritual crisis, will not take the easy way out of the ministry he believes he was meant for.

Misery is not limited by economic boundaries here, however, as McCann also shows through other characters, in other parts of the city. The emotional paralysis of Claire Soderberg, a Park Avenue matron, unable to resume her life after the death of her only child in Vietnam, is shared by her support group of four other mothers from all over the city, who have similar devastating losses. An artist from upstate New York, involved in a terrible accident in the city, is overwhelmed by her sense of guilt, and an educated Guatemalan immigrant, who had hoped to finish medical school in the U.S., must let go of her dreams. Each of these people must find some source of enduring beauty, however small, in order to go on. Dense and impressionistic in style, McCann illuminates the lives of many well-developed characters living in various parts of New York City, always doubling back to images of Phillipe Petit on his tightrope, and always showing his characters' overlaps.

Life in general is "nasty, brutish, and short" here, with no guarantees that it will ever improve, and as Tillie says of her life, "I don't know who God is, but if I meet him anytime soon ... I'm going to slap Him stupid." In the final section of the novel, McCann fast-forwards to 2006, as a character studies an inspirational photo of Philippe Petit walking on his tightrope, with a low-flying plane above him, the plane appearing to be just a few feet from flying into the World Trade Center: "As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later...[But] the plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don't fall apart...the man alone against scale, still capable of myth in the face of all other evidence." In his gorgeous, lyrical descriptions of Philippe Petit's walk, McCann suggests that this walk may be an extraordinary "gift" of beauty to a city which, collectively, may have thought it had seen it all. With this novel, however, McCann makes another such gift, an extraordinary homage to New York, with all its flaws, its traumas, its heartbreak--and its moments of great beauty.

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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 17 Feb 2010 21:53:04 GMT
A first rate review.Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Feb 2010 17:20:50 GMT
Last edited by the author on 18 Feb 2010 17:22:46 GMT
Mary Whipple says:
Well, thank you, too, Iris! Best wishes, Mary
(And if you are interested in other reviews, you can find my website on my profile page--just click on my name under this review. The site is primarily for books by foreign authors and books set in other countries.)
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3.8 out of 5 stars (64 customer reviews)
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Mary Whipple

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