Let the Great World Spin

"...everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected" according to Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin. His National Book Award winning-novel is the literary manifestation of this very belief in the interconnectedness of all that occurs in the great city of New York.

McCann's story is centered around a tightrope walker who managed to suspend a tightrope between the twin towers and walk, dance, and run across. It is New York City in the 1970's and the fateful day of the tightrope walker's performance plays a pivotal role in the lives of many of the city's people, from prostitutes prowling the streets of the Bronx to Park Avenue's mothers of Vietnam veterans. (Though there was a real-life tightrope walker, Philippe Petit, who completed this feat in August of 1974, the rest of the novel is entirely fictional.)

McCann introduces us to a multitude of characters whose seemingly disparate stories are ultimately intricately linked. These connections are drawn without sentimentality, however, and all serve to enhance McCann's portrait of New York as a living, thriving organism. He touches on generosity, love, loss, loneliness, desperation, and hope - a whole range of emotions to reflect the wide range of characters portrayed throughout.

Let the Great World Spin is hard to succinctly summarize, composed as it is of fragments of multiple lives that we see firsthand for a fleeting period, then never revisit in such close proximity again. It is a brilliantly crafted work, one that perfectly balances simplicity in theme with the complexity of the content of theme. In other words, McCann never tries to make his story more than it is - a tale of interconnected lives in the big apple. But by giving life to these complicated connections, the whole narrative becomes more than just the sum of its composite story parts.

I have a tendency to religiously read any and all quotes or passages included prior to the first page of a novel upon first delving in. Rarely, however, do I revisit them upon reaching the last page. Luckily, this book was an exception to that trend. And I think that the excerpt McCann chose from Aleksandar Hemon's 2008 novel The Lazarus Project provides a very apt summation to Let the Great World Spin. He wrote "All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is." I don't think better words could have been chosen to provide closure for this must-read novel.


  1. I had a really hard time reviewing this novel. You did a great job and really captured the spirit of the story as a whole. I agree - this is a must read.

  2. Yes! I read this a while ago and did a post on it here: http://missstephaniesue.blogspot.com/2010/12/read-let-great-world-spin.html

    Such a wonderful book :)


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