Today is great because…

Big Machine

Posted: September 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Book Review | Comments Off

big-machine_victor-lavalle

big-machine_victor-lavalle

Friday off?! That’s right. I did run a work errand or two, but other than that it was all this dude’s day. Which means coffee and a book, among other wonderful things. I finally had  a chance to finish Big Machine by Victor LaValle. I started it over a month ago. Poor Big Machine came into my life at a time when I was forced to put it down multiple times to read multiple other books (Magicians, part of a short story collection and a business “self-help” inspirational that I won’t share the title of, but which was REALLY good). Unfortunately for Mr. LaValle, his story got lost on me in those scattered and splintered readings. I can’t give credit to the novel that it’s probably owed.  It was good. Entertaining, even.  But not exciting. (I will say that I love the cover art of the edition I was reading: a simple spiraling watercolor.)

This happens more often these days than I should admit. Life, man, maybe I’d say if I felt I needed a vague excuse. But I don’t. Sometimes I’d just rather read something else for a while. And when I need to finish a book club novel by next Tuesday, I gotta get on it and temporarily forget about all other books.

Please accept my apologies, Big Machine.


Drizzle and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Posted: April 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: 1. Words, Book Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The great thing about a dreary, rainy weekend like this one is that I can sit in the sun room and read for hours and not feel guilty about it. Now that it’s spring and the weather is prime for enjoying the sun and the outdoors, there’s a lot of pressure to not waste a single second of it by staying inside. It’s the curse of a living in Minnesota and having to spend 6 months every year locked inside away from the cold.

A rainy weekend goes something like this:
I get up, put on some loose pants (ok, fine, pajama pants kinda like this). My bedroom door opens toward the sun room and I can see immediately that it’s drizzly and gloomy outside. I stretch, let out a final yawn then head toward the coffee pot. And that’s really all the preparation I need for a rainy weekend morning. I take a cup of coffee and a book to the comfy chair, crack a window so I can hear the rain and I sit and I read. Yes!

Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann

Yesterday, I finished Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. I’ve been making my way through it slowly and savoring every bit for the past few weeks. I’ve never been good at describing things that I like–I’m sooo good at describing things I dislike–but it was really, really great.

I’d like to quote the book’s blurb at length, but that’s too many words to type. In short…this novel is set in New York City on a day in 1974 when a tight rope walker dances on a wire suspended between the World Trade Center towers; it’s a “‘stunning portrait of a city and its people, connected in ways they don’t yet even know.” (This actually happened…a guy named Philippe Petit was the tight rope walker. There’s a newish documentary about this called Man on Wire, which I’m going to netflix immediately.)

The book is full of prostitutes, transplanted Irishmen, support groups for mothers who’ve lost children in Vietnam, dwellers of NYC projects and a list of other seemingly disconnected, unassociated people living out their lives in obscurity in the city. I won’t try to describe all of the characters in detail, but they are many, varied and each is endearing and lovable despite their personal flaws.

Corrigan is from Dublin, moved to America to give himself to god by way of giving himself to the unfortunate and destitute of New York City. He befriends prostitutes (like Tillie Henderson and her daughter Jazzylin), giving them a place to clean up and shoot up between johns. He’s more than selfless, he makes the pain of others his own. He lives in a shit-hole apartment in the projects alone and working part-time at a home for the elderly. He might be in love.

Claire lives on Park Avenue. Her husband is judge Soderberg. Their son, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, is dead. Claire tells her support group circle about life after loosing a child, but mostly she tells them about her son–What he liked, how smart he was, all the potential that he had yet to grow up into. These are just a handful of the characters that I came to know in this story.

Colum McCann

Colum McCann

What McCann does so well in this novel is give life to such a varied cast. This book is full of perspective shifts from one character to another and 1st and 3rd person POV shifts as we follow different characters through the story. Where in a lesser novel perspective shifts are a device used to build drama (a device that I usually hate as it’s the easy way out and it’s jarring–we move a way from the main action to build expectation while being given updates on the whereabouts of characters not involved in that main action), in LTGWS, each of the various character portraits are necessary and each is as engaging, well-developed–and just plain perfect–as all the others. I quickly learned to be happy about every shift away from a character I had come to love because I knew it wasn’t just a diversion, but that I’d be entered into the life of another with just as many beautiful things to share.

Scenes are occasionally lived twice as they’re described from the perspective of other characters, but even then there’s forward movement. With each character who takes up the narrative, the story is ratcheted further forward and the lives of everyone are drawn more tightly together. The event that brings them all together, the tight rope walk, gradually becomes less of a definition of their connectedness and rather a place marker that we can look to to see how small a single act needs to be to pin lives together.

Read this book.  Oh, and it won a National Book Award, if that matters to you.