Friday, July 9, 2010

Themed Reading: Let the Great World Spin

This book also counts as the National Book Award winner for the Battle of the Prizes - American Version.

Some people have not been bowled over by this novel (for example, Beth Fish cites certain factual inaccuracies that led her to abandon it) but I certainly was. Here and there certain parts hinted it was not quite perfection on the page, but overall it's a wonderful, moving book, one of the best I've read in quite a while.

I usually don't care for interconnected stories that substitute for a novel, but in this case I'll make an exception. There was enough overlap between the characters here to make this feel like a whole piece.

During the time that the unknown man walks his wire between the Twin Towers (Philippe Petit actually did this on August 7, 1974), a quarter mile above Manhattan, we are party to his planning and preparation, and to his joyous experience. Some of McCann's best writing expresses the walker's exhilarated realization of art and craft in perfect harmony.

At the same time we seem to see the big picture of human experience--from a viewpoint high in the sky, as it were--we know the intimate details of individual lives, the feelings of the watchers on the ground, and "[a]ll the lives we could live, all the people we will never know" of the epigraph from The Lazarus Project. We work beside Corrigan, an unconventional priest trying to minister to street people and prostitutes. We struggle with Tillie, a grandmother still turning tricks but also trying to figure out how to keep her grandchildren from following the same path. We reach out with Claire, a wealthy woman whose overwhelming grief for her son killed in Vietnam will find little outlet unless she can overcome the barriers of class and convention. We hear from those their lives touch, too, in a widening net of human connection, bound together in the mesh of life as tightly as the fibers of that cable, so high in the air.


What happened then was that, for an instant, almost nothing happened. He wasn't even there. Failure didn't even cross his mind. It felt like a sort of floating. He could have been in the meadow. His body loosened and took on the shape of the wind. The play of the shoulder could instruct the ankle. His throat could soothe his heel and moisten the ligaments at his ankle. A touch of the tongue against the teeth could relax the thigh. His elbow could brother his knee. If he tightened his neck he could feel it correcting in his hip. At his center he never moved. He thought of his stomach as a bowl of water. If he got it wrong, the bowl would right itself. He felt for the curve of the cable with the arch and then sole of his foot. A second step and a third. He went out beyond the first guy lines, all of him in synch.

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