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“Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann is a beautiful novel revolving around the day a man walked a tightrope between the two World Trade Towers in New York in 1974. It was the era when families were losing their sons to the Vietnam War, black Americans were beginning to feel the affects of the Freedom Riders, and immigrants, as in every decade, were searching for their
place in this new land.
Corrigan and his older brother grew up in Dublin. It was just the two of them and their mother. Their father was just a check that appeared once a week. The older brother is studious and serious but Corrigan spends his days with the homeless outcasts. He finds he has a calling to do God’s work, so when he gets to New York he befriends some prostitutes – he does not not try to convert them or talk about God in his conversation. He just wants to make their lives a little better. He always leaves his apartment door open so they will have access to a clean bathroom. Two of the prostitutes are Tilly and her daughter Jazz. They are likable girls who strut on the wrong side of the law.
When Corrigan’s older brother arrives in New York he is appalled at how his brother is living. New York is teeming with people, all living their own lives. The judge who presides when Tilly and Jazz go to court, and his wife, Claire, live on Park Avenue. They have lost their only child in Vietnam, and Claire cannot get through her grief. She has answered an add in the paper from another mother of a lost soldier. She and four other women are now meeting weekly to talk about their dear boys.
Into this mix of people struggling to get through each day comes the tightrope walker. He is a diversion, something unusual.
The writing is beautiful, with each of the characters telling his or her own story. As the day unfolds, with the tightrope walker taking that first step out between the two towers, you find that all these people are connected in subtle ways.
As the author writes, “People are good or half good or a quarter good, and it changes all the time – but even on the best day nobody’s perfect.” In this fascinating novel, we find the good and the bad in all these people.