Again, time for writing has been scarce, but next up on the review docket is Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This was recommended to me by my friend, Wes, last year and was in a stack of books that he presented to me at Christmas, part of our ever continuing book exchange. It centers around the experiences of every day people just before and after the day in August of 1974 when a man walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York City. Though all of the characters are connected somehow, the two main groups are centered around an Irish priest struggling with his faith, his brother, and the prostitutes he helps and a wealthy woman whose son was killed in Vietnam, her support group member-turned-friend who also lost a son in the war, and her judge husband.
I will admit, I had a hard time with this one. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, especially the tightrope walker, whose sections felt incredibly disconnected to me. And perhaps that was on purpose as he had no real connection with any of the other characters. While some chapters were incredibly engaging, others were slow and boring, and I lost motivation because of this inconsistency. I don’t know. I can’t quite put my finger on why, even several weeks after finishing the book, but I just had a hard time connecting with the plot and characters on this one.
What I really appreciated was the language. Colum McCann is a composer of language, and the novel is a multi-movement linguistic symphony. He is very in tune with the rhythm and sound of language and the resulting images and emotions those aspects of words create. Though I have read plenty of authors who are spectacular wordsmiths over the years, I feel many of them (including two that I’ve reviewed this year, Emily St. John Mandel and Anthony Doerr) are language painters, treating words like paint and brushstrokes. McCann is one of the few that really pays attention to the music of language, treating words like notes and chords. To him language is an aural rather than visual medium. For example, I appreciate the fricative-laced rat-tat-tat-tat of Tillie’s chapter as she contemplates the choice of life behind bars without her grandchildren, motherless now that her daughter and fellow prostitute has been killed in a car accident, or the release of death by suicide contrasted with the controlled smooth precision of Claire, perfectly put together in her Park Avenue penthouse, every careful movement, every careful word designed to keep herself from flying apart over the death of her son in Vietnam. I appreciate the tarnished 20’s vibe of Lara’s chapter, tinged with honey and cocaine, a boozy jazz number being smashed back into the reality of the now. With Gloria I loved her faux-Southern church hymn exterior contrasted with her inner passion for the music of the gods: Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi and the voices that their music. Gloria has the most explicitly-music connected chapter, and yet each character has his or her own rhythm, lilt, and melody to their thoughts, even when music isn’t mentioned. And that title! It’s simply gorgeous.
For me, this book isn’t one that I particularly enjoyed nor care to revisit. However, I’m glad I read it, and I’m interested in reading more of McCann’s writing now. I’m sure many of you will like the story more than I did, but I would encourage everyone to read it, simply for the sheer pleasure of experiencing McCann’s language.