Book Review: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCannThis month my book club discussed Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann, an historical fiction book set in the 1970s, which won a National Book Award.

“In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.”

This was an interesting book – it’s told from multiple perspectives around the same time period; some intersperse with each other and some don’t, telling the stories of various people who saw the event happen or heard about it, etc. Our book club thought it was refreshing to read about a time when all of New York stopped to look at this beautiful event happening at the Twin Towers, since now we can’t help but feel saddened by any mention of the towers. Usually when all the world stops to stare at something, it’s a tragedy. But in 1974, instead, they got to witness something amazing and beautiful.

Of course there are some major story arcs and some smaller ones in this story, but I felt that because a new person was narrating each of the (fairly long) chapters that it was hard to get too close to any of the characters, for better or worse. The book deals with some fairly heavy subject matter – from the mothers of boys who had died in Vietnam, to ladies “strolling” the streets in the Bronx and a minor roadside scrape that turns quickly fatal. There are no truly happy stories in this book, really, but I think the author did a good job of keeping it from all being too much, by moving on to other narrators often. That said…

There were some things I really liked about this book – the writing itself was beautiful and very well done, but the format of the book kept me from loving it. There were parts of the story that I would have loved to have read more about and other parts that I felt were verging on pointless that never connected back to anything – those chapters could have been used to lengthen and develop the major stories. I’m sure this was the author’s intention but that doesn’t mean I have to like it! I found myself drawn towards one small story line that got very little time in the book at all. This was disappointing for me.

I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it either. It made me think – and it made for a very interesting book club discussion – from talking about 9/11 to memories of New York throughout the years and a lot of talk about writing styles and what we all like and don’t like in a book, it was a great meeting and overall I’m glad to have read the book. It’s definitely a story that will stay with me.

Have you read Let The Great World Spin? What did you think of it?