Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Let the Great World Spin

I loved it when I first picked it up and continued to savour every page of  Let the Great World Spin.

McCann embodied his characters so well I genuinely felt I was viewing life through their eyes, feeling  the pain of mothers who had lost their sons, daughters estranged from mothers, brothers trying to connect, a Jesuit questioning vows of chastity or Pierre Petit preparing for his high wire walk between the two World Trade Towers.

Most of the novel is set in 1974 and many of the characters are affected in some way by Petit's display. McCann gained some of his insight into Petit from the memoir, "To Reach the Clouds" published a few months after 9/11 in 2002. Both this novel and the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire were released in 2009.

Reviews were over the top for this novel, "One of the most electric, profound novels I have read in years," (New York Times Book Review); "An act of bravado, dizzying proof that to keep your balance you need to know how to fall," (; "Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking, heartbreaking symphony of a novel?" (Frank McCourt)

Some passages I dog-eared:

What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday. The comfort he got from the hard, cold truth - the filth, the war, the poverty - was that life could be capable of small beauties. He wasn't interested in the glorious tales of the afterlife or the notion of a honey-soaked heaven. To him that was a dressing room for hell. Rather he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it. Out of that came some sort of triumph that went beyond theological proof, a cause for optimism against all evidence. (p. 20)

The over-examined life... is not worth living. (p.  79)

Let this be a lesson to us all, said the preacher. You will be walking someday in the dark and the truth will come shining through, and behind you will be a life you will never want to see again. (p. 145)

There was an arrogance in it, he knew, but on the wire arrogance became survival. It was the only time he could lose himself completely. He thought of himself as a man who wanted to hate himself. Get rid of this foot. This toe. This calf. Find the place of immobility. So much of it was about the old cure of forgetting. To become anonymous to himself, have his own body absorb him. And yet there were overlapping realities:  he also wanted his mind to be in that place where his body was at ease. / It was so much like having sex with the wind. It complicated things and blew away and softly separated and slid back around him.  (p. 240)

He was happy, give or take.  He was lucky, give or take.  He didn't have everything he wanted, but he had enough. Yes, that's what he wanted: just a quiet afternoon of nothingness. (p. 264)

Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you're lucky enough to find it, you stay there. Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off, but most people who've been around for awhile know it's just a thing that changes day by day, and depending on how much you fight for it, you get it, or you hold on to it, or you lose it, but sometimes it's never even there in the first place. (p. 304)

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