On It’s Axis

“Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you’re lucky enough to find it, you stay there.  Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off, but most people who’ve been around awhile know it’s just a thing that changes day by day, and depending on how much you fight for it, you get it, or you hold on to it, or you lose it, but sometimes it’s never even there in the first place.”  from Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

I’ve been wanting to tell you how much I loved this book, how heartbreaking~glorious~moving it was in all its pain and wonder.  Unlike any book I’ve read in a while, it peers intently at one strange moment in history and then widens the lens ever so slowly until we see the whole great world spinning around it and on into the future.

In 1974, Phillipe Petit stretched a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and walked across that sparkling divide.  Think about that for a moment – think about the bravado of that feat, the sheer in-your-faceness of it.  Colum McCann used this real event as the axis around which to build his novel, a work which expands on Petit’s act and focuses a lens on the people on the ground, delving into their stories which all interlock in amazing ways.  People like Corrigan, a radical “monk” whose self imposed mission is a group of back alley prostitutes.  People like Solomon and Claire Soderberg, Park Avenue residents, a judge and his wife whose only son has been killed in Vietnam.  People like Gloria, a black woman from the projects who has lost all of her sons to violent deaths. 

The times themselves are a story.  It’s August 1974, and Richard Nixon is about to resign in disgrace.  The Vietnam war is winding down, civil rights is heating up.  Artists and writers are pushing all sorts of boundaries.  Yet for one moment, the city stops and raises its eyes, watches this crazy seeming man as he pirouettes across a steel cable suspended a quarter-mile above them.  Where else could this happen, except New York, this city that teems with life and death and hope and failure?  For the reader, there is an added poignancy to this story, knowing what is to become of those twin towers in just a few decades, and how that event will again galvanize the city – and the great world around it.

This great world will keep on spinning, McCann assures us.   And all of us are standing on it together – sometimes hanging on for dear life, other times with our faces lifted to the breeze of glory.

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7 thoughts on “On It’s Axis

  1. Wow, this sounds like an amazing book. I loved the way you describe its focus on a small event and the widening lens to bring in everything else. Really interested in this one now.

  2. Loved this one too and especially appreciated how McCann’s voice morphed to suit the character in the stories of individuals (although not so much the awkward dialect of the prostitutes). Emotionally powerful for me.

  3. I have this on my shelf to read and your review is so beautifully written it makes me want to read the book sooner rather than later.

  4. I loved this book, too, and think it’s the best novel I’ve read in quite a while. Your review captures it very well. (And to think Petit accomplished his feat without any permission from anyone! Somehow that makes it even more special.)

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