I have heard that one of the tests young Irish students must pass involves a proctor placing an irregularly shaped, sharp edged stone in the student’s palm. The student is told to polish the stone until it yields a story. It is further told that young Colum McCann kept returning for the exam even though he had repeatedly passed. When questioned, he replied, “One stone is good, but it takes several to build a book.”
The stones that make Let The Great World Spin are polished to a warm touch but never washed. They give the despair and loneliness of New York City without diminishing the allure. There are no excuses with this writer. He earns every page.
The historical point in time around which these stories spin is August 7, 1974, when Phillipe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Twin Towers. During that spectacular event, Petit crossed eight times plus performing a few tricks on the wire. An estimated 100,000 New Yorkers watched. Perhaps none absorbed as much from that performance as McCann, and he wasn’t there to see it. The 2008 Oscar for Best Documentary went to Man on Wire which you can rent from Netflix. Petit wrote and illustrated his own account in To Reach The Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between The Twin Towers. Charles Marlin