Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, was published in 2009 by Random House. The novel has also been touted as an allegory of the events of 9/11. It is a novel about life and death, love and grief, and hope. Taking place in New York City in 1974, on the day that Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers, the story merges the lives and losses of seemingly unrelated people. The chapters tell the stories of different characters; some related to each other some closely, some remotely. They are all somehow touched by the events taking place in the 110th floor of the two towers.
Two young men from Ireland have moved to New York City. One is Corrigan, a monk on a religious mission, has lived in the Bronx for a number of years. He spends his days between a nursing home and looking after the prostitutes in his neighborhood. His brother Carian has just recently arrived; he is trying to make sense of his brother’s life and his own.
Claire and Solomon live on Park Avenue; they have lost their son to the Vietnam War. Claire seeks solace in a support group, and Solomon hides his pain by immersing himself in his judicial career. Gloria is a member of Claire’s group and lives in the same building in the Bronx as Corrigan. She finds her own life touched by the prostitutes on her street.
A young artistic couple, Blaine and Lara, have tried to escape a past filled with drugs and alcohol by moving to the peaceful country. The city draws them back for one night and the following morning, one fateful moment intersects their lives with those of Corrigan, Ciaran, Gloria, and the prostitutes Tillie and Jazzlyn.
The novel closes twenty-two years later with a glimpse into the past, while Jaslyn – the daughter of one of the prostitutes, comes to terms with her past and accepts the future enfolding before her. This is a story about embracing the grief that brings people together and the hope that propels them forward.
Those Who Saw Him Hushed
The novel opens in 1974 at the World Trade Center in New York. A crowd is gathering on the street, looking up at a man on the 110th floor. There is a cable stretched between the towers. The onlookers cannot figure out what is going on; police and fire engines arrive. Finally, a dark figure steps out of the window and onto the cable; he is holding a long, flopping pole in his hands.
Book One: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here
A young man from Dublin moves to New York in 1974 to check up on his brother who has been living there for a number of years. The brother's name is Corrigan and he belongs to a religious order; he has been sent on a mission to the city. Corrigan has felt compelled to help the needy since he was young.
The narrator finds Corrigan living in squalor; he keeps his door unlocked so the local prostitutes can use his bathroom. Corrigan also works for a nursing home, where he has fallen in love with one of his co-workers, Abelita. Although the narrator is disturbed by Corrigan’s lifestyle, he decides to stay so he can look out for his brother.
After a police raid, Corrigan goes to the court house to help two of the prostitutes. Tillie has just taken the rap for her daughter, Jazzlyn, and has been sent to jail. Driving home from the courthouse, Corrigan loses control of the van and he and Jazzlyn are both killed in the ensuing accident. At the hospital, Corrigan whispers his last words to Abelita.
Book One: Mirò, Mirò, on the Wall
Claire and Solomon live in an apartment on Park Avenue; their only son died in Vietnam. Claire is hosting a support meeting for four women whose sons have also died in the war. Claire feels a special affiliation with Gloria, the only African American in the group. While Claire waits, she frets about appearing too pretentious and reminisces about her son, Joshua.
When they arrive, Marcia tells of a man who was walking on a tightrope between the towers of the World Trade Center. She imagined him to be her son in angelic form. Claire is bothered by the man’s blatant disregard for life. She struggles to regain the attention of the chattering women.
Book One: A Fear of Love
Driving their vintage Chrysler on the FDR Freeway, Lara and Blaine cause a fatal accident when they collide with Corrigan’s van. Lara and Blaine are artists trying to escape a past filled with drugs and alcohol. Lara is filled with remorse, but Blaine insists that the accident was not their fault. Blaine turns to drugs again. Lara goes to the hospital seeking information, where she is mistaken for a relative and is given Corrigan’s belongings.
Looking to leave his belongings at the apartment, Lara encounters Ciaran and a group of prostitutes preparing for Jazzlyn’s funeral. Ciaran, Corrigan’s brother, asks Lara if she will accompany him to the funeral; she reluctantly agrees. After the funeral, Lara and Ciaran spend some time together and she admits that she was in the car that caused the accident.
Book One: Let the Great World Spin Forever Down
“The walker,” who remains unnamed, is at a cabin in the country where he practices walking on the tightrope. It is winter and he falls off the wire into the deep snow and is barely able to save himself. Later, he goes to the city to scope out the twin towers of the World Trade Center and works on...
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