Connecting Threads: Review of “Let the Great World Spin”

In the book “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann, the author juggles between the themes of light and dark. The author shows the experiences of the characters as dark and gloomy where life is out of balance. However, moving towards the darkness ultimately allows the characters to find the light of a recovered balance. The characters within the stories are similar to the tightrope walker who, when facing such daunting challenges and obstacles to walk between the twin towers, moves forward, allowing him to gain more confidence and progress.

In the short story “A fear of love” Lara Livine is put in the dark, when she and her husband Blaine crashed their car and killed both Jazzlyn and Corrigan. In the past, both Blaine and Lara became heroin addicts after Blaine’s successes in his art career. This plunged both of them into darkness. In those reckless days of partying, “Night Time wasn’t just a dark thing anymore; it had actually acquired the light of the morning—it seemed nothing to think of night as having a sunrise in it, or a noontime alarm”(McCann 123). In an attempt to rid themselves of this darkness, Lara and Blaine moved to a remote cabin, and managed to take a brief respite from drugs. However, their peace was upset by the car crash, which caused great guilt in Lara’s mind. She became stuck between the aspects of guilt and fear. On one hand her guilt drives her to seek reconciliation, but at the same time she feels uncertain about the sincerity of her own intentions This event engulfs Lara in darkness. All her past experiences are gathered and stacked upon her shoulders due to the car crash, creating an overwhelming sense of grief. However, she came to a realization when she was eating a meal with her husband Blaine, when he said, “We allow the present to work on the past”: that she can potentially drive the darkness out of her past by moving forward. As she approached the Bronx, she initially wanted to turn back due to anxiety and fear; she relates to the horses she saw when she was younger, “As a child I saw horses trying to step into… , or turn back”(McCann 140). The horses that wanted to enter the river met many obstacles in moving forward, yet those who persisted despite their own doubts were able to achieve their goals. Those who turned back because of their own doubts failed to reach their goal of cooling down. Lara realized, in recollecting this experience, that to find balance within her life, determination and persistence through the dark fear is necessary. Ultimately this determination to proceed allowed Lara to find the light by moving through the darkness of uncertainty and fear. She meets Ciarcan, the brother of Corrigan, and found love within him that eventually allowed Lara to regain balance in her life by driving out the darkness of the past.

In one of the short stories of the book “All respects to heaven, I like it here”, the plot revolves around an Irish missionary in the Bronx called Corrigan. This story explores a struggle between the two central but clashing themes: his love towards Adelita, and faith in God. Corrigan’s initial goal was to become the light in the darkness for the impoverished elderly or the prostitutes. “What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday… for the world to be a better place”(McCann 20) Corrigan wanted to be the light within the dark in order to conceal the darkness within himself. This created a balance within himself that sustained him. However, when he fell in love with Adelita, problems arose. He becomes pulled apart between his faith and love for a woman. “What might happen if he tumbled short of his dreams? How much might he hate his God if he left her behind? How might he destest himself if he stuck to his Lord?”(McCann, 58) If Corrigan decides to embrace only his faith, he would continue being the light for others, but at the same time the light within himself would fade without following his love of Adelita. Meanwhile, if he chooses to love Adelita, the light within himself will grow, but he will stop being the light in the darkness. Ultimately this pushes him into an ocean of uncertainty and insecurity. However, he moves forward and out of the darkness through his death in the car crash. Corrigan finally finds peace and clarity on his deathbed after toiling through the obstacles of life. His acceptance of death shows his ultimate choice: to pursue the path to faith and to be the light to others. This moves him forward out of his darkness, which allows him to return to the state of radical innocence that he greatly desired.

In the short story All Hail and Hallelujah, the plot revolves around the character Gloria. The story explores a struggle between finding love and abolishing emotion. Gloria grew up in a place where love was abundant. Her parents furnished her with love and affection, filling her heart with warmth. Gloria states within the story, “I used to think that it was difficult for children of folks who really loved each other… you don’t want to develop your own”(McCann 289). With such abundant love early in Gloria’s life, it was hard for her to express the same love with another person. This situation was further worsened by her two failed marriages and the loss of her three children in Vietnam. This made Gloria feel that she was incapable of loving and forming connections with others. At the same time Gloria desires a return to the love she once felt from her parents. However, when she is mugged, she has to choose between going back to Claire’s house or going back to her own. If she goes back to her own house, she will be unable to find balance within her life. On the other hand, if she goes to Claire’s house, she has to go through her own emotional turmoil. Eventually, she comes to the realization that relationships are necessary to regain balance, as nothing can stand alone without support. “It had never occurred to me but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing is as strange as the last, and connected”(McCann 306). Throughout the story Gloria had spurned any attempts by Claire and the other fellow mothers of veterans from connecting with her. Gloria attempts to create a facade of strength and aloofness to hide her true vulnerability. After taking offense at Claire’s attempt to pay for her to stay after the gathering, she has second thoughts: “Then again, I was thinking that I shouldn’t be acting this way, maybe I was getting it all wrong … even on the best day nobody’s perfect”(McCann 307) n showing her moral conflict with her attempts to hide her vulnerability and the need of love. However, this prevents her from obtaining the very thing she needs to regain balance: love. Gloria needs to allow herself to become vulnerable in order to be cherished by others. Ultimately Gloria chooses to move forward into the darkness and uncertainty to allow her to find the light and regain balance within life. She returns to a state in which she could love and cherish again through her newfound bond with Claire.

In conclusion, “Let the Great World Spin” threads the stories together by expressing that moving forward is the only way to regain balance within life. Although light is viewed as the desired outcome, it will not exist without darkness. As there is no light without the dark, the negative is what makes the positive significant. It is the glimmer of light the characters seek that keeps them motivated within the darkness.

Andrew Wang

Andrew Wang ’24 was born in Beijing, China and currently resides in Princeton, NJ. As a junior in Blair, he lives in Lakeside. Andrew has joined the Oracle because of his profound interest in creative writing and journalism. He is excited to contribute his excellent works to the Oracle.

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