Martin's Reviews > Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
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's review
Mar 29, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010books
Read from August 06 to 30, 2010

I am happy to report that Let the Great World Spin lived up to all the hype, and there has been lots of hype for Mr. Colum McCann. It’s a sad, lovely work that does a remarkable job stringing a cable from 1973 New York to the present time and dancing all along that wire. The book may end quickly and softly in the present day, and the vast majority of the action may take place in 1973, but it is the space in between that makes this book so worthwhile – connections made without fanfare, resonances as light as air – a literal and figurative high-wire act. It almost felt like an exercise – “take these two disparate time periods and tie them together though subtle inference” – but was executed elegantly enough that what could easily have been strained and formal was smart and lithe.

Some chapters and characters and stories I liked more than others; I’m particularly finished with the literary elevation of graffiti, not because I have any puritanical dislike of graffiti, but because I feel like Jonathan Letham’s The Fortress of Solitude (a book I liked much less yet can’t help but compare with this one) so completely exhausted that topic that I can now go the rest of my life without again being asked to reconsider the "tagger-as-artist." Other chapters – particularly the first grieving mothers chapter – delivered pure emotional knockout punches straight to the heart.

The subtle interplay of fact and fiction I also enjoyed, accomplished all without rubbing the reader’s nose in anything too post-modernist. Like I said before: elegant. And although much of the novel was sad-very-sad, I appreciated the quiet undercurrents of hope and beauty, especially in McCann’s ability to find some quiet optimism in these two time periods of similarly seminal, unsettling change. As the old saying goes, it’s easy to tear something down, but much harder to build something up. And much harder still to tie a linking line, connect, and dance in the vastness between.
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