On August 7, 1974, French high wire artist Philippe Petit performed his most famous feat: walking a wire spanning the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. This event, which captivated the entire city, provides a foothold for Let the Great World Spin, running over, under, and around all of the characters in this book but seldom directly touching any of them.
The large cast of characters include Corrigan, a young Irish monk working in the Bronx slums, caring for prostitutes, addicts, and senior citizens. His brother, newly arrived from Ireland, strives both to understand Corrigan’s vocation and convince him to return home. Two of the prostitutes, Tillie and Jazzlyn, are mother and daughter. Then there’s Claire, a well-off woman living on Park Avenue, who would seem to have little connection to the others. But Claire has recently joined a group of women who have all lost sons in Vietnam, and she befriended Gloria, who is well acquainted with Corrigan’s world. And the connections don’t stop there.
As Colum McCann tells Corrigan’s story, he begins weaving an intricate fabric with strands that are revealed, little by little, through the rest of the book. While the high wire walk serves as an underlying theme, other events touch the characters’ lives more directly. From the stuff of everyday living to devastating tragedy, McCann shows the reader these events from multiple perspectives, and ties them all together in a complex and emotional way.
It’s difficult to say more about this book without spoilers. I loved the writing, felt sympathetic to most of the characters, and was moved without feeling manipulated.