Reading Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, the first thing to strike me was that his prose reads like butter. The first seventy pages or so, detailing the relationship between Corrigan and his brother was so beautifully rendered, I found myself gasping at times, wanting to underline certain sections. Corrigan, a Catholic monk with his own flaws, spends his life helping those in need without passing judgement. Corrigan is so giving of himself, so selfless, that his brother struggles to understand.
Through Corrigan’s brother, we meet several other remarkable characters, including a mother and daughter who are prostitutes. Later, we are transported from the slums to the wealthy home of a judge and his wife who’ve lost their son in Vietnam. We also take a trip with two artists whose lives comes to a crashing halt. The lives of these disparate New Yorkers is pulled together on the remarkable day in August, 1974 when Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers.
Two films came to my mind while reading this book. Crash and Babel were two movies that showed the improbable connectedness of our lives, and McCann has rendered a similar feeling through the fleeting moments his characters share.
The structure of this book was a marvel. McCann wrote the back story for each of these characters in a way that allows the reader to glide effortlessly through the pages. While I started out loving the prose, I ended the book realizing McCann balanced it all - the prose, the characters and the structure - as gracefully as Petit himself walked the tightrope that day.