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"Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann

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Colum McCann has accomplished a rare feat: he's a foreigner, but he's brought out a more sophisticated, forceful, and American novel about that most fascinating and aggravating of American cities, New York, than almost any American author could. "Let the Great World Spin" sheds its knowing and compassionate light on the lives of a handful of New Yorkers - two women distraught over the loss of sons in Vietnam, the judge husband of one of these women, a drug-addled avant garde artist struggling with heavy guilt, a clique of prostitutes in the South Bronx and the naif who strives to minister to them, the Central American woman who falls for this would-be priest.

The daily struggles with grief, poverty, and hopelessness swirl - spin - around the focal point of an amazing, only-in-New York stunt that was perpetrated on a sultry summer day in 1974: a tightrope walk between the tops of the two World Trade Center towers. In fact, this unnamed daredevil's portrait is one of the most captivating and entertaining parts of the book. It is one of the continuing strands Mr. McCann so skilfully weaves together; they spin and swirl in an ever-tightening whirlpool centered around the nexus of the tightrope stunt. The stunt does not function as a deus ex machina device, although it can seem that way. As in "Five Skies" by Ron Carlson, this one high aspiration, this out-of-this-world concept, carries a symbolic weight. People strive to rise above in this story, and the tightrope walker carries not only their hopes and dreams aloft, but those of millions of other New Yorkers, too.

Mr. McCann's prose works wonders with the internal dialogs here; it contains just the right level of language: he puts just the appropriate slang, insult, street patois, and curse in the mouths each of these characters. His concept is ingenious and his somewhat unorthodox way of twirling the yarns together into a cohesive whole achieves its object brilliantly. This book takes and breaks our hearts, heals them partway back up, and then gives us hope for these characters and for their fellow hopefuls here on the ground. This is the best book I read in 2009. I honor Mr. McCann's achievement, and encourage in the highest possible terms, others to take it up! Oh, you will be impressed and enriched!
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