Monday, December 7, 2009

Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann

I am going to come right out and say it, no suspense-building here, this powerhouse of a novel gets a 5 out of 5 from me.

The story centers around Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Twin Towers in the 1970's. And by the way, that's a true story (watch this documentary!) although that story is certainly romanticized in this novel and it is quite clear that the author has taken liberties to add many a whimsical detail and flourish. Regardless. It's a fascinating bit of history. I think of Petit as both 1) quite literally a freak of nature -- seriously, how many people in the world could have accomplished that feat? and 2) amazing in the truest sense of the word. Throughout the novel we get glimpses into Petit's brain about his preparations and his actual walk as well as the various reactions of New Yorkers who saw him up there, over 100 stories high.

Mind if I read you the first paragraph?

Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful. Some thought at first that it must have been a trick of the light, someting to do with the weather, an accident of shadowfall. Others figured it might be the perfect city joke -- stand around and point upward, until people gathered, tilted their heads, nodded, affirmed, until all were staring upward at nothing at all, like waiting for the end of a Lenny Bruce gag. But the longer they watched, the surer they were. He stood at the very edge of the building, shaped dark against the gray of the morning. A window washer maybe. Or a construction worker. Or a jumper.
This is the backdrop.

The meat of the story intertwines the complicatated lives of several strangers, picked to live in a house, work together, have their lives taped . . .  oh sorry, I have Real World DC on the brain. There is Corrigan, a young Irish monk, who lives among the prositutes of the Bronx and struggles with his faith. There is a Park Avenue woman who has lost her son in Vietnam. There is a young artist who finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run. There is Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother whose teenage daughter is also a prostitute. Their lives are messy, fascinating, heartbreaking.

5 out of 5

Read it. And here is an extra credit viewing assignment:

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Philippe Petit

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
U.S. Speedskating

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