Let the Great World Spin

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, sipping it like a latte, hoping to draw out the pleasure, to preserve the intensity. I’d list this book as a contender for the great American novel if it weren’t written by an Irishman. But then maybe an outsider can see us most clearly. Maybe we need an objective third party to tell our story.

This book is tragically and devastatingly beautiful. It’s about grief and pain and accidents and joy and love and connection. It’s about a priest, a hooker, an artist, a Park Avenue mother, a Vietnam casualty, an entire city, a country, the great world itself. It’s scope is almost epic.

I love the life in McCann’s characters, each man and woman with a unique, authentic voice. Every person in this book breathes: Corrigan, a priest struggling to connect with God in a world where women train their daughters in the art of prostitution; Claire, a mother mourning a son amid a sea of mourning mothers; Solomon, a judge with no hopes of ever stopping the devolution of the world. Each person’s pain is fiercely personal and unexpectedly communal.

This book is, perhaps necessarily, graphic. McCann refuses to dilute the ugliness of the unchecked human appetite, and the result is a book that leaves its reader hungry. Although McCann tries to end with hope, he fails.

Books like this jar me, stir me, shake me.

For two weeks (349 pages) I’ve lived alongside the hurting but had no chance to extend healing. That’s the way it goes with a book—the characters step inside you, but you can’t step into them. And so I feel somewhat helpless, somewhat hopeless.

But books like this also remind me and convict me, motivate me to find hurting people and lead them to healing.

McCann offers a man on a high wire as hope. That hope is small, too small for the big, big problems he catalogues. The hope I have, though, is big enough. Big enough for the entire, ever-spinning, great world.