I love this time of year. I have done all my ‘Christmas reading’ and as January and February can be quite months book release-wise I have a window at this time of year to read some backlist. The only problem is which book to choose! I was meant to be on a bit of a western trip at the moment but I took a quick peak at an older Colum McCann title and was completely hooked.
One of my favourite reads of 2009 what the National Book Award winner LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN. It is one of those amazing New York novels that captures why that city enchants everyone so much. The backdrop to the book is Philippe Petit’s incredible tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers but the book is about 6 other, very different, characters. They are all from different parts of New York and different walks of life and their lives entwine after witnessing Petit’s death defying act.
THIS SIDE OF BRIGHTNESS hooks you with another wonder of New York, the building of the subway tunnels. The opening sequence involving a leak in the building of Brooklyn-Manhattan subway tunnel is literally unforgettable and sets in a motion a tragic chain of events. McCann uses the tunnels of New York to great effect following tunnel worker Nathan Walker through the twentieth century while interspersing his story with that of a homeless man living in abandoned tunnel is 1990s New York. Walker is an African-American who marries a much younger white woman and is haunted by prejudices all his life. When he can no longer hide in the darkness of the tunnels he digs he seeks darkness elsewhere. Homeless man, Treefrog, is horrified by his own thoughts and actions and has chosen the vacant tunnels as his respite from the world.
There is not a lot of light in THIS SIDE OF BRIGHTNESS but it is storytelling at its finest. It is a sad and poignant novel that captures time and place so vividly you can’t help but be moved. What an amazing writer.