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Colum McCann spins out

HOW TO EXPRESS an ancient truth in a new way? This is one of the more fundamental questions facing the author; those who succeed in answering it are said to possess “vision.”

For almost two decades, Colum McCann has labored at a very old truth indeed: that the burdens of the past condition the present. It wasn’t, however, until his fifth entry in this project, the 2009 novel Let the Great World Spin, that McCann was widely hailed as a visionary. Though the book, with its array of perspectives and its interest in the ways in which the past lives on in the present, hardly marked a radical departure from McCann’s previous four novels, it earned him universal critical acclaim, a National Book Award, and the big audience that had hitherto eluded him. Its success seemed due in no small part to its subject matter: arranging a Joycean cast of urban dwellers around Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, Let the Great World Spin made an indelible and appealing contribution to the fledgling cohort of 9/11 novels.

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