Select Page

mccann cover.jpgI’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Colum McCann‘s new novel, Let the Great World Spin. It arrived in stores today; I picked up a copy this morning. I finish teaching this week and am looking forward to summer reading.

Last year I bought Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, also on the day it was released. I enjoyed it, certainly, but don’t really think of it a year later as a classic New York novel. A very fine one, perhaps, and among the best post-9/11 novels, but not quite a permanent part of the canon. I also read Price’s Lush Life last summer. It made its way onto New York Magazine‘s list of the best New York cultural artifacts of the last 40 years, though I suppose we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s still on the list 40 years from now. I ate it up, and think about it often (thought about it just last Sunday, in fact, sitting at brunch at Schiller’s with my family for Father’s Day). But it has something of the feel of TV in the end — good TV, The Wire TV — but maybe not classic literature.

Does that mean I’m setting my hopes a little too high for Let the Great World Spin? Lord knows I’m the target audience. Not only do I gravitate toward NYC hist and lit of all periods and styles, but I’m the right age (five years younger than McCann) to have a serious infatuation with the city circa 1974, which is when his novel’s set. Like him, I’m too young to have lived here then, or even for it to have been a part of my consciousness (Sesame Street notwithstanding). To boot, I’m gearing up to write about the band that kicked off CBGB that very year, so I’ve already got ’74 in particular on the brain.

New York‘s culture blog has an interview up with McCann today. Here’s a highlight:

Did you go to those places — like the South Bronx projects,
where two of your main characters are hookers working under the Major
Deegan?

Yeah, I hung around. To be totally honest I’d feel more at risk walking
down O’Connell Street in Dublin at midnight than I did at any time in
the South Bronx. But it’s impossible to find a hooker who was around in
the seventies, because she’s either stuffed herself with so much heroin
that she’s six feet underground or she’s 60 years old now and she’s not
going to talk about it.

It seems like the character most similar to you is also the most
unlikable — a selfish striver with Yuppie tendencies. Am I reading that
correctly?

I would say yes; in fact I’m going to do a recorded-books version and
I’m going to read that chapter. There’s a scene in the book where the
tightrope walker guesses everybody’s birthday at a party — he goes
around and pickpockets their drivers’ licenses. But the one person he
doesn’t get is this idiot who says, “Oh, I never carry my driver’s
license” — like me. And then the walker goes out the door and says
“28th of February” — which is my birthday. You’ve got to be a little
self-deprecating. I happen to be in New York, I’m middle-class, I live
on the Upper East Side for my sins. But the thing I’m attracted to is
the edges.

Rest of the interview here. I’m sure I’ll post my reaction to the book sooner or later; it begins with Philippe Petit’s walk on the wire between the Twin Towers, which is promising. If we can keep some frickin’ sun out around here I’d love to spend some time outside reading in the grass, seeing as it’s officially summer now and all.