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A (Tightrope) Walk to Remember
victoria hollo 11 contributing writer
November 11, 2010

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann’s latest novel, tells the story of seemingly dissimilar characters, each struggling to achieve a meaningful life while coming to terms with their grief. Set in New York City, the novel centers around Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, triggering a momentary stillness almost tangible among the city dwellers: “Those who saw him hushed. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful,” wrote McCann. Especially after September 11, the event won a place in many hearts.

Initially, the story focuses on two brothers, Corrigan and Ciaran, who move to the Bronx from a seaside village in Ireland after the loss of their mother. Ciaran arrives shortly after his brother, who divides his time between working at a nursing home and providing shelter for prostitutes in his neighborhood in hope of finding religious and spiritual fulfillment.

As the novel progresses McCann introduces an array of other characters, including a middle-aged couple living on Park Avenue who lost their son to the Vietnam War and an artistic duo trying to escape a past ridden by drugs and alcohol. All the characters suffer loss in one way or another, yet remain resolute in even the most dismal of times. The novel leads them to forms of personal liberation.

McCann seamlessly merges the lives of these various characters, emphasizing the power of human interconnectedness in a city so diverse and teeming with energy. Through contrasting voices and sharp, concise diction, McCann creates overlap and enrichment of the plot, connecting each account to the tightrope walker.

Thought-provoking and endearing, Let the Great World Spin captures America in a time of transition and innocence, conveying the whole of a diverse city, from prostitutes to lawyers to tightrope walkers. Drawn together by a moment of awe and by the power of healing, the characters prove that everyone has something in common, even if only their silence in reaction to a walk on the tightrope.