Last June, it was disgustingly hot in South Texas, but I was transplanting flowers and herb on my mom's deck. Did I mention that it was only 10 o'clock in the morning? After a few minutes, I did think to bring the little vintage-y radio out from the kitchen and tune to NPR. Diane Rehm was having a conversation with a lovely man with an Irish accent. That man, it turns out, was Colum McCann and they were discussing his book, Let the Great World Spin.
I don't remember much about their conversation, but I do remember that he was a fascinating and very gentle man who spoke thoughtfully and considerately. They discussed the events of September 11th several times, so I thought the book was about that day and its aftermath. The novel sounded interesting, so I filed it away in my long list of "books to read", which is really a list of "books to buy and then sit on my book shelf for a few months (or years) until I finally get around to reading you". I eventually put it on my Amazon wishlist, but never bought it.
In December, my boyfriend and I were wandering around Barnes and Noble during a visit to his parents'. He had a coupon and said he'd buy me a book (yay!). I don't think he realized what he was getting himself into with his generous offer. I collected a stack of books from all over the store, unable to make a decision. Then I'd return them all and stark another. Then, finally, I had a stroke of genius. Let the Great World Spin! I put down the books in my hands and started searching for the book. I couldn't remember the author's name. It's also possible that I didn't even remember the title. But then I miraculously stumbled upon it on a side table and grabbed it, ran up to G triumphantly and presented him with the book. "I'm ready," I said confidently. I think he was relieved.
I started reading it immediately, but then about 250 pages in, I was sidetracked by moving and new jobs and holidays. It was lost in mounds of stuff in my car. Then Monday, when I was looking for something new to read, I remembered the forgotten book, and dug it out. I'm glad I did.
My opinion of the book 250 along was quite different from my opinion now that I have finished it. The novel is not so much about September 11th as it is about an event that happened at the Twin Towers years before in 1974. A man walked on a tightrope between the two towers and captured the attention of New Yorkers as they walked below.
McCann's novel tells the story of several of those onlookers, as well as the story of the walker himself. Each chapter is from a different point of view. At first, this was very unsettling to me. I was annoyed by the sudden change of scene and character. But by the end, the connections became clear, and I closed the book with a sense of satisfaction.
One of the reviews I read refers to it as a "September 11th novel", and the concluding chapter does occur post-9/11 and make reference to the tragedy in connection to the events on 1974.
The author explains some of the connections for him in this novel in this interview after winning the National Book Award. I don't want to go into too much more detail in case some of you might want to read it (which is would encourage!).
Has anyone else read it? What were your impressions? Do you even get book suggestions from hearing the authors speak on TV or radio?