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Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Let the Great World Spin
This book was listed as Amazon's best fiction book of 2009, on top of that the late Frank McCourt gives a hearty endorsement on the Amazon page. Feeling flush with overtime money from the Christmas and New Year's holidays I thought I'd try it out.
Parts of this book made me feel like I was reading the best book ever. The book is broken down into short stories about characters who's lives all intertwine on a certain day in 1970s New York. You can certianly find out about the event portrayed or other information about the book, spoilers abound on the web because this book has been heavily discussed in literary circles. I'll leave it up to you to decide if you want a more thorough spoiler laden review before deciding whether to read it but I'll stay at a high level here.
It joins the proud tradition of New York stories, not a new genre, a good one but I've grown tired of novels set in the city. When stories are told about New York, this includes TV series like Sex in the City and movies like Woody Allen movies, the rest of us are somewhat left out. Writers get all gushy about their favorite brownstones and doormen and write a lot of dialogue about what a pain in the ass it is to get a cab when you want one. What Makes setting a story in New York a tired gimmick at this point is that it's the easiest way to smash the world of the haves and the have nots together, mix it around a bit and see what comes out. This story is not an exception to that formula, the run ins between the classes are what makes the stories move. Most of them are so well written that it's not a noticeable faux pas but there are a couple chapters where I just couldn't hold up my suspension of disbelief long enough to not wish that those painful passages would end.
The issue here is that Collum McCann writes each of the chapters in a different style. Some are written in a first person biographical style, some in a classic third person omniscient style. He's able to nail 10 out of the 12 chapters and I kept thinking through all of them that everyone should read this book. The two that I felt were clunkers used different voices but both were in a stream of consciousness style. Collum McCann, you are not a Joyce or a Faulkner. You are however one of the most brilliant narrative writers that I have had the pleasure to read.