Let the Great World Spin: A Novel by Colum McCann


Audiobook.  This 2009 National Book Award fiction winner was recommended by Pat.  After reading several books about or set in the late 1960s, I have moved on to 1974.

The unifying event of this book is the tightrope walk between the World Trade Center buildings by Philippe Petit.  (A 2008 documentary called Man on Wire documents his walk which lasted about an hour.)   Unifying is too strong a term; the author tells a number of stories and makes a connection, sometimes fleeting, to the walk.  Sometimes the wondrous and beautiful event takes the people out of themselves for a moment, sometimes it doesn't.

The stories are wonderful, if sometimes devastating.  The first concerns Irish brothers; at an early age the younger, sweet and beloved one seeks out the most miserable among us and joins them in drinking.  Eventually he stops drinking, becomes a priest and finds himself in the Bronx offering a bit of refuge to the drug addicted hookers who work near the project where he lives.  And for his kindness, he is beaten up by the pimps.  And then things get worse. 

When the second one turned out to be the story of a group of women who made a connection to each other because they each had lost a son in Vietnam, I wondered if I could make it through the book.  But I am awfully glad I did.

There were the young guys, including a teenager, who hack into the phone system while they are at work in a computer room in California and become "witnesses" to the walk by getting passersby who answered the payphone to describe the event.  We hear the walker describe his preparations.  We dip into the life of the judge who hears the charges against the walker.  I especially liked the story of her life narrated by Tillie, one of the hookers. 

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