Let the Great World Spin Essay - Critical Essays

Colum McCann

Literary Criticism

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin was published by Random House in 2009. The novel won the 2009 National Book Award and is Amazon.com’s “2009 Book of the Year." It is McCann’s fifth novel. He has also written two collections of short stories. Let the Great World Spin is a book about the living entity that is New York City. Interest in Philippe Petit’s walk between the towers was resurrected in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks, and critics note that McCann seems to meld both the hope and the grief behind these events together in his novel.

Most reviews have been positive, praising McCann’s prose and the genuine portrayals of his characters, but some critics also lament the novel’s length and disconnection. A reviewer for Kirkus found the novel , “(u)nfocused and overlong, though written with verve, empathy and stylistic mastery.”In the New York Times, John Mahler stated, “It is a mark of the novel's soaring and largely fulfilled ambition that McCann just keeps rolling out new people, deftly linking each to the next, as his story moves toward its surprising and deeply affecting conclusion.” Other reviews praised McCann’s ability to weave the tightrope walk with the lives of many New Yorkers. Motoko Rich, also from the New York Times, pieced it all together with this statement: “The tightrope walker's ''act of bravura'' is at least equaled by the ''human bravura'' of the people on the street. His characters know grief, disillusionment and rank failure. And yet they go on.” Grief, no matter how deep, is followed by hope, or at least endurance, and life continues.