Let The Great World Spin

Book Review - I very much enjoyed Colum McCann's story about New York City in the 1970's, about 9-11, about Vietnam, and about a tightrope walker. Let The Great World Spin weaves in and out of the past, and ultimately concerns, in McCann's words, "ordinary people on the street, the ones who walked a tightrope just one inch off the ground."

The section quoted below struck a chord with me because I once lived very near the Soldier and Sailor's monument on the Upper West Side. The monument is a stately white marble structure that seems so misplaced in a city bereft of many political symbols. As McCann points out through one of his characters, New York is not a place that dwells much on the past. It's much too pragmatic for any of that. I like the idea that the living, breathing people of this city are the real monuments, and that what is happening now is as important as what happened then.

"Every now and then the city shook its soul out. 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. He had a theory about it. It happened, and re-happened, because it was a city uninterested in history. Strange things occured precisely because there was no necessary regard for the past. The city lived in a sort of everyday present. It had no need to believe in itself as a London, or an Athens, or even a signifier of the New World, like a Sydney, or a Los Angeles. No, the city wouldn't care less about where it stood.

He had seen a T-shirt once that said : NEW YORK FUCKIN' CITY. As if it were the only place that ever existed and the only one that ever would. New York kept going forward because it didn't give a good goddamn about what it had left behind... he could only really pinpoint a dozen true statues around New York City- most of them in Central Park, along the Literary Walk, and who in the world went to Central Park these days anyway? On other famous street corners, Broadway or Wall Street or around Gracie Square, nobody felt a need to lay claim to history. Why bother? You couldn't eat a statue. You couldn't screw a monument. You couldn't wring a million dollars out of a piece of brass."