Colum McCann: The Twin Towers then and now


“So he just gathered up his stuff and went down the stairs with the thousands of others who were doing likewise.”

While he was still inside the neighboring building came down. All the young firefighters, the cops, men and women, were still going up the stairs, in an orderly fashion. But he got out, waded through the pools of water and then out into a white land of fire and ash.

“He made his way all the way to 71st Street and First Avenue where we were living at the time. My young daughter smelled the dust and smoke on his suit and thought he was burning,” recalls McCann.

“When she was told he was not she said, ‘No he is, he’s burning from the inside out.’ He threw his shirt and suit down the garbage disposal and he left his shoes at out door.”

McCann’s father in law said he would never read a 9/11 novel or see a film about it. It brought back too much for him. He still, McCann says, wakes up having seen the faces of those kids going up the stairs as he went down.

A different kind of 9/11 story

“When he read “'et the Great World Spin' he realized right away that it was about 9/11, but he also understood that it was a different story, it was about 1974, too,” McCann says.

“It’s about joy and accomplishment and beauty. It was a way for me to try and tell the 9/11 story and yet get out of it on a different note.”

It might surprise some to learn that this most philosophical of writers thoroughly loves the public readings and book launches that most writers bemoan.

“I should say I don’t, because it doesn’t sound very serious, but I love meeting people and I love getting out and about. I sit on my ass for long periods of time. It’s a solitary thing. I’m a pretty social being,” he says.

McCann’s new book was rapturously received by Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, which can be a fast track to bestseller status, but McCann’s not overawed.

“If you believe the good stuff you must also believe the bad stuff. It’s a natural, logical collaratttttrly. Therefore you just say that’s wonderful that happened but I must move on. My own literary heroes manage to keep their life and art in check.”

"One of the greatest-ever novels about New York"

Fellow writer Dave Eggers recently observed, “Leave it to an Irishman to write one of the greatest-ever novels about New York.”

As for “Let the Great World Spin” and its abundant metaphors, McCann’s hopes are as modest as his skills are wide.

“I want people to walk inside it. If they choose to see it about 1974 that’s cool. If they choose to see it as an 9/11 allegory that’s even cooler,” he says.

“I hope it breaks their hearts in a certain way. It was the easiest book that I’ve written in a while, but it knocked the living s*** out of me.”

McCann will read from his new novel on Wednesday, July 8 at 12:30 p.m. in Bryant Park, right behind the New York Public Library.