The Beverly Hills Literary Escape concluded giving Colum McCann the Medici Book Club Prize. The $5,000 cash prize is awarded in recognition of a distinguished work of fiction that has inspired thoughtful conversation and contributed to a deeper understanding of the human experience. McCann’s exploration of the intertwining of various lives and events in 1974 while constantly driving the reader towards 9/11 in Let the Great World Spin exceeded the expectations for the award.
When I read the first few pages of Let the Great World Spin, in my head I knew McCann was talking about Petit tightrope walk, but from my forehead down I was reliving the morning of 9/11/2001. I asked McCann where he was when that morning, he said at 71st and 1st in New York City with his wife and children. His father-in-law worked in the first building hit but the second to come down. The family didn’t know he survived until six hours later when he appeared on their doorstep covered in dust and debris. McCann’s daughter ran to him and said “Poppi smells like fire.” They explained it was from the smoke and she replied “no, he smells like he’s on fire from the inside out.” McCann’s father-in-law showered and threw all of his clothes away, he never wanted to see that suit again. However, he took off his shoes at the doorway and they have kept them in the same condition. The shoes will be part of the 9/11 museum. Clearly, McCann’s experience comes alive in the opening chapter of the book.
Here are few of McCann’s other comments during his conversation with Julie Robinson:
- Hope in Reality. He used the tightrope to show that we are all on a tightrope either half a mile up or just six inches up like Jasmine’s daughters, or the a mother who sends her son to war, or a mother who witnesses her daughter walk the streets. He wanted the book to be about recovery and grace, so all the characters chose to live and survive. While recognizing that the world is harsh, he answers with a so what? He chose to write a book that embodied how hard life can be, but to imbue it with hope. He doesn’t find hope sentimental, but tougher to maintain than cynicism.
- Spoiler Alert: One of his goals was to write a ‘good’ character, which is difficult. He wanted a Catholic character because of the recent bad events in the church. McCann modeled Corrigan (note his initials are JC, I didn’t catch that, McCann pointed it out) after a true-life radical priest. McCann didn’t want Corrigan to die and he tried all kinds of scenarios to ‘roll away the stone’ and resurrect him, but it never worked. McCann mused that for evil to exist it only has to happen once, but for good to exist it needs to occur repeatedly. The reader experiences repeated acts of kindness with Corrigan. I think everyone misses him and wishes he didn’t die.
- Tightrope. McCann believes that the tightrope walk will be remembered as one of the great art achievements of the 20th century because it created a moment of fullness and completeness. Moreover, it can never be replicated. A little book trivia, McCann changed Petit’s walk Read the rest of this entry »