Let the Great World Spin

McCann, Colum. Let the Great World Spin. Random House (New York: 2009).

This brilliant novel dives into a sequence of lives and perspectives, pulling us onward 9780812973990with a sense of unraveling mystery. A trapeze artist suspended on a wire between the Twin Towers provides a frame and a touch point, as various characters react to his presence in the midst of their day. What connects these lives sometimes seems as slender as the wire under that artist’s feet, but it holds: we come to care about each of them in turn. My favorite is Corrigan, the conflicted priest – “a mad, impossible angel” – and I’m at first disappointed when the story moves away from him; but then near the end, we find our way back to the woman who loves him and, with a shiver, my understanding of both characters deepens. There is pain here, but also the marvel of our interconnection.

For writers: The biggest challenge of a story cycle is how to keep your readers engaged each time you change characters. McCann handles this masterfully, both by intermixing startling revelations with unanswered questions and by launching each new story in media res with a strong, distinct voice. He also plays with perspective, often revisiting the same scene more than once through a different character’s eyes. Every time he does this, we learn something surprising.

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