I started off my summer in New York with a visit to my daughter and, while standing on the subway, and in need of a new book to read, overheard this conversation:
“Oh, you’re reading that book. Are you loving it? I mean, in an intense, difficult and poignant sort of way.”
Woman looks over top of book: “Yeah. It’s great.”
“Because I couldn’t put it down.”
Woman nods and continues reading while I turn my head sideways and try to read the title so I can be sure to pick it up at the Strand Bookstore which is on my list to visit the next day. Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. And when I start reading this book I wonder how I could have missed it before now. I mean, it was a National Book Award winner and already out in paperback. Maybe I passed it over before because it was marketed as a “9/11” book and I’m avoiding those. And while I read the story which opens in Ireland as the story of two brothers, I continue to wonder where 9/11 comes in.
But then, one brother moves to New York – a monk looking to minister to the poor – where he finds himself as a protector of prostitutes and friend to nursing home residents. He struggles with his vow of chastity even as he hooks up an elderly friend with a young prostitute as a birthday gift. And still, where’s the 9/11 connection? There’s the story of the French guy, Phillipe Petit, who walks across a tightrope between the Twin Towers, the middle aged Central Park West housewife and her group of unlikely friends who meet to share breakfast and grief — they each have a son who died in the war, the judge who hears the tightrope walker’s case and the young artist and her druggy and ethically challenged boyfriend who cause the car crash which will change them all.
Whew! All these interconnected stories coming together in New York City. And while 9/11 is never overtly part of the novel, the tragedy haunts the story throughout. The image of the towers coming down in 2001 is juxtaposed against the characters’ view in the novel of Petit crossing between them in 1974. It is a brilliant novel and my favorite of the year.