Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let The Great World Spin

This week I headed back into the descriptive words of a great novel. Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann plays with the idea of balance, starting with Philippe Petit's 1974 glorious tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, and the stories of ordinary New Yorkers tied, however tangentially, to that event.

Let the Great World Spin will sneak up on you. It begins slowly and quietly on the other side of the ocean, in a seaside town in Ireland where we are introduced to two Irish brothers. Slowly, McCann takes us on a journey to a bleak project in the 1970s South Bronx, and from here, the book gradually expands as the brothers’ story collides with those of several others. Among them an aging black hooker and her daughter, a Guatemalan nurse, and a 20-something method artist. The circle continues to widen, six-degrees-of-separation-style, with the players growing even more diverse and incomparable. The film “Crash” inevitably comes to mind. There is even a fatal car accident, only without the reductive moralizing. “It had never occurred to me before,” one character says, “but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected.”

When I was in elementary and jr. high school, I loved using a thesaurus whenever I was involved in a writing project. One day I discovered the word 'phantasmagoric'. It is defined as; 1) A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams or fever 2) A constantly changing scene composed of numerous elements. 3) Fantastic imagery as represented in art. I had never really had a place for this beautiful word in my vocabulary, but now I do. Let The Great World Spin is a phantasmagoric story. McCann's writhing is deep and inviting. You can turn to any random page, pick a sentence, and find yourself lost in another world. His words string together to form such strong images in your mind that you become completely captivated, and can forget that you are sitting in your own living room, rather than the deteriorating streets of the Bronx, or in a luxurious and resplendent penthouse suite on park avenue.

I brought this book with me on a business trip down to Nashville TN. It was with me through the Edmonton, Toronto, Nashville airports and back again. In hotel and conference rooms, and in my sparse moments of solitude. Being at the conference all day, my head began to fill with new information, thoughts and strategies, so when I allowed my mind to take a break from all that it, it was so refreshing to enter an entertaining world, much different from the one I was in.

When I read books, I have this desire, perhaps even an obsession to finish the at the end of a chapter, or at least when the end of a sentence is on the right page, so I can start a fresh new page or chapter the next time I pick up my book. Since each chapter in Let The Great World Spin is dedicated to an individual character, they can get fairly long. So if you are like me, with strange OCD tendencies, I would suggest setting aside a good amount of time to read this book, so that you can get through a whole chapter. Whether you like reading in the morning, on your lunch break, or before bed, treat yourself to your favorite drink, and enjoy a piece of solitude during your busy day. Allow yourself the time and space to get to know these marvelous, and entertaining characters.

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