The Trifecta Achieved

I don't usually dedicate full posts to reviews unless the book is nonfiction, an ARC I feel obligated to discuss, or is just really, really good. Today I'm writing under the premise of option three- I just finished Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, and it was definitely one of the best books I've read in awhile. And so it gets a full post.

When I judge a book I hold it against the great Trifecta of Literary Merit- characters, story, and writing (by the way, don't look up the word "trifecta" in the Urban Dictionary). So many books have one, or even two, but fail to successfully accomplish quality in all three areas. McCann does it, though- his characters all have depth, the story is deceptively onward-moving, and the writing is this complicatedly simple (I know, I know). 

So what is it about? People, life, desperation, choice, belief, fear, death, and tightrope walking. 

Let me try again. 

The story is set in 1974 when Phillipe Petit (who is not actually named in the story) sets up a tightrope between the Twin Towers and walks across. The story isn't about him, though, it's about the people who see the spectacle, and those that are connected to them. The tightrope walking is a distraction, a metaphor for taking risks and moving forward- not the main event. The novel actually begins in Ireland, with two brothers who end up losing their mother to cancer. Corrigan, the younger, religious, monk-ish, brother, leaves for America, and his older brother, Ciaran, soon follows. He finds Corrigan living in the projects, opening his apartment up to the neighborhood hookers so that they have a place to use the bathroom (including Tillie and her daughter Jazlyn). Their section ends in an accident that kills both Jazlyn and Corrigan (not a spoiler, don't panic).

As soon as you are sufficiently attached to the brothers, McCann changes to the next character- a mother who has lost her only son in Vietnam. She lives on Park Avenue with her husband, Solomon, a judge. Claire is preparing her apartment for a support group full of other women who have lost their sons, including Gloria, an African American lady who Claire is especially fond of. 

Again, ripped away! Then the story moves to Lara, the wife of the man who hits Corrigan's car. They're artists who are also recovering drug addicts- supposedly. Lara can't shake the guilt she feels as being part of a hit and run, so she returns to the projects and ends up meeting up with Ciaran, and Tillie (who is now in jail).

Then the novel shifts again. And again. And again. Each time McCann takes a smaller character from a prior chapter (Gloria, Solomon, Tillie, the tightrope walker) and brings him or her into the forefront. I'm always the type of reader, and watcher, who wonders about the back story of the minor characters, so finding a book that does it so expertly pleases me to no end. In the end the characters are all linked to one another, some in major ways, some in minor. It's how the world works- we form connections and break connections, and all the while the world keeps spinning, not stopping when we humans screw up. 

After finishing the book I watched Man on Wire, the documentary about Petit. I have to admit, the idea of walking between the Twin Towers seemed like a silly, dangerous stunt when I first heard about it. And it still does, a little bit, but I when push comes to shove it's important to remember that we all do different things to make us happy. Some people read excessively. Some people collect cat figurines. Some of people like to dress up Civil War costumes and pretend to shoot each other. And some people walk on wires thousands and thousands of feet in the air without a safety net or harness. Petit loved the beauty of balance and air. He loved the challenge of a new height and was willing to do whatever it took to make the walk. I watched it while on my treadmill- Petit would probably not have approved. 


  1. I know that you are a pretty tough critic, so for the book to get such a good review means that I pretty much have to read it now!

  2. I watched this documentary about two years ago and I loved it! It was very interesting to watch how he successfully planned this whole operation involved in making his dream of walking across the Twin Towers a reality.

  3. I've heard that documentary is SO good! It keeps popping up on my Netflix suggestions!

  4. Hey! Thanks for stopping by. I was pretty upset at that time of the post re my son and the medication. I spoke with my SIL who is a reading recovery teacher and she agreed with me to not make a scene because he might start getting negative treatment. As much as we all hope that would never happen, we are smart enough to know it does. So, I didn't make a huge deal. I did get clarification, and in the future I will try my best to get medicine that he doesn't need during the school day. It is hard as he goes to before/after school at 7 and I don't pick him up until almost 5:40.

  5. I am often drawn to character driven novels, but finding a book that hits on that elusive trifecta is pretty awesome -- books like that don't come along very often, so I'm glad you found this one :)