In New York City on August 1974, the sounds of the busy street slowly begin to wind down to a near silent rumble of noise. There is a man on the top of one of the World Trade Center towers looming over the city. Leaving people below to wonder if this is going to jump to his death, or if it is a window washer, a construction worker or maybe just a shadow. People start to notice that there is a wire connecting the two World Trade Center Towers. The man Philippe Petit, whose name is not mentioned in the novel, steps out onto the ledge of the one-hundred and ten stories building connected to the wire. The city sits in shock and awe while awaiting the death of this man on a wire. This single event is a cornerstone to the whole novel. Colum McCann wrote Let the Great World Spin, a polyphonic novel where the reader will feel and understand human connectivity. The reader watches the city of New York build and grow over the decades since that iconic day where many watched the man take one step then another making his way across the cable connecting the towers.
McCann, uses the Twin Towers as a metaphor for how humans, both posh and poor, can find meaning and closeness in some of the most inspiring and most heartbreaking events. This novel is emotionally and thematically set as an allegory of the events that took place on 9/11/2001.
McCann introduces two men from Ireland. Corrigan is a religious monk who has lived in New York for a number of years. He spends the vast majority of his time helping at nursing homes and taking care of prostitutes in the city, making sure they are eating and have shelter by letting them rest at his apartment; the prostitutes call it The Tinkling Shop. His brother Carigan has recently moved to New York and is having the time of his life. He is trying to figure out his own purpose in life and trying to understand why his brother seems like he has everything put together so perfectly.
Living in the same building as Corrigan is Gloria. As the chapter shifts focus we learn that she lost three boys, has been divorced twice and attends group therapy. Chapter opens up with Claire serving breakfast for all the mothers who have lost sons. Gloria is part of this group. Claire and Solomon, Claire’s husband, lost their son in the Vietnam war. Each are trying to cope with the loss in their own ways; Claire goes to group therapy with Gloria and Solomon works himself numb.
Each chapter is a short story in its own right but all of their lives eventually intertwine. Through each chapter and story the reader will find that at least one character was in New York watching the man on the wire August 1974. They all were connected through that moment in time. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 caused them to remember that event. The Towers were somewhat forgotten in the bustle of the city until the attack.
This was one of the last times the Twin Towers brought the country together, and it is where the major theme of the book takes place. We, as readers and as humans, are all connected in one way or another.