30 Day Book Challenge, contemporary fiction, International Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, Irish Literature, National Book Award Winner, Out of Control? Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann A Review, Postmodernism
30 Book Challenge: Book I Liked Least
I truly wanted to like this book. From its award winning status to the spiritually tormented and enigmatic characters, it delivers many of the aspects I seek in a novel. When I read on wikpedia.com that J.J. Abrams bought the rights for a film adaptation, I was even more disappointed. I LOVE J.J. Abrams, how could I not like this book. Still, even the best and most respected authors write novels a person might not cannot with sometimes. The writing style wasn’t for me and try as I might I couldn’t really relate to the characters.
The story begins with a captivating scene- the entire city of Manhattan stops their morning commute to work, breakfast, school-to gaze toward the sky. A man- no one can be certain who he is, what exactly he is doing, or why-stands atop a skyscraper on the brink of death. Is he attempting suicide or toying with fate for an adrenaline rush? McCann has succeeded in pulling the reader in; I want to know more.
The nameless man fades into the background and characters with faces, lives, and sad stories begin to surface, one after the other. What begins as a mystery turns into a somewhat enthralling history of two Irish brothers: Corrigan and Ciaran. The eldest, Corrigan, has a devout commitment to some spirituality entity, and he makes his way to New York City circa the 1960’s where he does his best to live a ‘pure’ life. McCann depicts the Bronx ghetto Corrigan inhabits and the world of the prostitutes he helps survive the streets in perfect detail. The dichotomy of reasons for Corrigan living among prostitutes, drug addicts, and the poverty stricken is true to life, moving and compelling. In part his motivation is charity, but his brother knows that lack of self- control also plays a key role. Just as Corrigan begins to realize his life as a holy man may not be what he is meant for, and the reader becomes invested in his fall from grace as he he falls head over heels in love, he is killed in a car crash.
It takes an effort to become attached to the characters and story lines (for this reader anyway). Since the stories move so quickly and evolve without reason, the over-all concept of the work isn’t conveyed as fluidly as in other award winning novels. When Corrigan and his women finally began to grow on this reader, I was sad to see them depart. This retreat is not compensated with the arrival new ideas that provide meaning or growth to rival what had passed. With their exit came the arrival of a less likable crowd, the couple who crashed into Corrigan’s van, killing him. The scene is eventful, yet somehow manages to remain mediocre. The pair of cokeheads, Blaine and his wife, are high while driver, Blaine, runs his 1920’s vintage Buick into Corrigan’s van. Next, they decide to run away from the scene of the crime. It isn’t until the wife, who narrates her side of the story in the text, returns to make amends, meeting a grieving Ciaran that the reader begins to warm to her. This, of course, is when she makes her exit.
As in the book a make a complete shift from one topic, and setting to another: Thus, it is back to the scene of the man on the top of the Manhattan skyline: Who is he? After a strange conversation among unknowns (why would the reader want to know where the dialogue is coming from?) about the man’s activities-he’s walking a tight-rope, balancing, lying down, about to reach the other building. Cut back to another series of unfamiliar events and characters.
I really do not like the feeling I get from reading a book and not knowing what is going on. In Let the Great World Spin, each new chapter, seems to begin an entirely new story. I read the first 200 pages trying to connect the dots, and in some cases, as in that of the Corrigan’s (the last name of the two brothers) and the couple who killed them in the car crash, paths do cross. However, in the second 100 pages, I could make no such connections. Characters, plot, formatting, interweaving, what?
This is a National Book Award winning text, so obviously many knowledgeable individuals find merit in it. Perhaps if I had kept reading I would have understood the point of so many different characters and stories. I am confident there was a method to the madness. I hope one of the many faces to make an appearance in the novel, perhaps Ciaran or Blaine, was the man walking the wire? I admit part of me wishes I had continued reading, if only to find out what the author intended for odd man.
Everyone has books that aren’t for them. I feel comfortable once character, setting, plot, and mood are established. For this reason, stream of consciousness drives me batty. In a way all the switching of plot and setting reminded me of it. I considered that all the movement from place to place and person to person was an intentional literary device to keep the reader intrigued. Still, with each adaptation from the original plot line I had acclimated myself to, I pulled further away from my reading. This text made me feel uncomfortable, and- I’ll admit – stupid for not knowing what the author’s intentions were.
If anyone else had other incites, please let me know!
Final Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
guardian.com: McCann wins IMPAC Dublin Prize 2011