Let the Great World Spin is an emotional tour de force. It is a heartbreaking book, but not a depressing one. Through their anguish, McCann’s characters manage to find comfort, even a kind of redemption.... Always in the background is a time and a place—the waning days of Nixon and Vietnam, and New York in the 1970s. In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of a new generation of New York novelists led by Jonathan Lethem and Colson Whitehead, both native New Yorkers. McCann brings an immigrant’s refreshing sense of awe to the same terrain. “Every now and then the city shook its soul out,” he writes. “It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.
Jonathan Mahler - New York Times
McCann can craft penetrating phrases—a smoker resembles "his last cigarette, ashen and ready to fall"—but his theme is stale, and the exhaustive back stories he gives each character never pay off. McCann relies on streams of short sentences that can seem lazy and distracted. "Pureness moving" describes a break-dancer 140 pages before the exact phrase is used again to describe Petit. Perhaps the repetition is deliberate, but, either way, the line doesn't land a punch. By book's end, McCann is writing of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, the width of his canvas enhancing neither the plot nor our concern for it.
Mike Peed - Washington Post
McCann's sweeping new novel hinges on Philippe Petit's illicit 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers. It is the aftermath, in which Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. Solomon, anxious to get to Petit, quickly dispenses with a petty larceny involving mother/daughter hookers Tillie and Jazzlyn Henderson. Jazzlyn is let go, but is killed on the way home in a traffic accident. Also killed is John Corrigan, a priest who was giving her a ride. The other driver, an artist named Blaine, drives away, and the next day his wife, Lara, feeling guilty, tries to check on the victims, leading her to meet John's brother, with whom she'll form an enduring bond. Meanwhile, Solomon's wife, Claire, meets with a group of mothers who have lost sons in Vietnam. One of them, Gloria, lives in the same building where John lived, which is how Claire, taking Gloria home, witnesses a small salvation. McCann's dogged, DeLillo—like ambition to show American magic and dread sometimes comes unfocused—John Corrigan in particular never seems real—but he succeeds in giving us a high-wire performance of style and heart.
[B]est-selling literary novelist McCann allows himself more artistic freedom in his shimmering, shattering fifth novel. It begins on August 7, 1974, when New Yorkers are stopped in their tracks by the sight of a man walking between the towers of the World Trade Center.... In McCann’s wise and elegiac novel of origins and consequences, each of his finely drawn, unexpectedly connected characters balances above an abyss, evincing great courage with every step. —Donna Seaman
The famous 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers is a central motif in this unwieldy paean to the adopted city of Dublin-born McCann. Told by a succession of narrators representing diverse social strata, the novel recalls Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), except that where Bonfire was deeply cynical about Reagan-era New York, McCann's take on the grittier, 1970s city is deadly earnest. On the day that "the tightrope walker" (never named, but obviously modeled on Philippe Petit) strolls between the Twin Towers, other New Yorkers are performing quieter acts of courage. Ciaran has come from Dublin to the Bronx to rescue his brother Corrigan, a monk whose ministry involves providing shelter and respite to an impromptu congregation of freeway underpass hookers. Corrigan chastely yearns for Adelita, his co-worker at a nursing home. Claire, heiress wife of Solomon, a judge at the "Shithouse" (Manhattan criminal court), has joined a support group of bereaved mothers whose sons died in the Vietnam War. With much trepidation, she hosts the group-including Gloria, Corrigan's neighbor and the only African-American member-at her Park Avenue penthouse. Two of Corrigan's prostitute flock, Jazzlyn and her mother Tillie, are picked up on an outstanding warrant, and he accompanies them to their arraignment in Solomon's courtroom, where the newly arrested sky-walker is among those waiting to plead. Cocaine-addled painters Blaine and Lara, once again fleeing the Manhattan art scene, also flee the accident scene after their classic car clips Corrigan's van from the rear as he's driving Jazzlyn home. (Tillie, having taken the rap for her daughter, is in jail.) Peripheral characters command occasional chapters as well, and this series of linked stories never really gels as a novel. Unfocused and overlong, though written with verve, empathy and stylistic mastery.
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