Colum McCann

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Colum McCann, 2009

Colum McCann (born 28 February 1965) is an Irish writer of literary fiction.


Let the Great World Spin (2009)[edit]

Those Who Saw Him Hushed[edit]

  • Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful.
  • The watchers below pulled in their breath all at once. The air felt suddenly shared. The man above was a word they seemed to know, though they had not heard it before.

Book One: All Respects to Heaven, I Like it Here[edit]

  • Hours and hours of insanity and escape. The projects were a victim of theft and wind. The downdrafts made their own weather. Plastic bags caught on the gusts of summer wind. Old domino players sat in the courtyard, playing underneath the flying litter. The sound of the plastic bags was like rifle fire. If you watched the rubbish for a while you could tell the exact shape of the wind. Perhaps in a way it was alluring, like little else around it: whole, bright, slapping curlicues and large figure eights, helixes and whorls and corkscrews. Sometimes a bit of plastic caught against a pipe or touched the top of the chain-link fence and backed away gracelessly, like it had been warned. The handles came together and the bag collapsed. There were no tree branches to be caught on. One boy from a neighboring flat stuck a lineless fishing pole out the window but he didn't catch any. The bags often stayed up in one place, as if they were contemplating the whole gray scene, and then would take a sudden dip, a polite curtsy, and away.
  • Grow up, brother. Pack your bags, go somewhere you matter. They deserve nothing. They're not Magdalenes. You're just a bum among them. You're looking for the poor man within? Why don't you humble yourself at the feet of the rich for once? Or does your God just love useless people?
  • If you think you know all the secrets, you think you know all the cures.
  • I recalled the myth that I had once heard as a university student — thirty-six hidden saints in the world, all of them doing the work of humble men, carpenters, cobblers, shepherds. They bore the sorrows of the earth and they had a line of communication with God, all except one, the hidden saint, who was forgotten. The forgotten one was left to struggle on his own, with no line of communication to that which he so hugely needed. Corrigan had lost his line with God: he bore the sorrows on his own, the story of stories.
  • We seldom know what we're hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only its memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant.
  • You know, when you're young, God sweeps you up. He holds you there. The real snag is to stay there and to know how to fall. All those days when you can't hold on any longer. When you tumble. The test is being able to climb up again.
  • Pain's nothing. Pain's what you give, not what you get.
  • There are moments we return to, now and always. Family is like water - it has a memory of what it once filled, always trying to get back to the original stream.
  • I knew then that it would end badly, her and Corrigan, these children. Someone or other was going to get torn asunder. And yet why shouldn't they fall in love, if even just for a short while? Why shouldn't Corrigan live his life in the body that was hurting him, giving up in places? Why shouldn't he have a moment of release from this God of his? It was a torture shop for him, worrying about the world, having to deal with intricacies when what he really wanted was to be ordinary and do the simple thing.

    Yet nothing was simple, certainly not simplification. Poverty, chastity, obedience — he had spent his life in fealty to them, but was unarmed when they turned against him.

  • We have all heard of these things before. The love letter arriving as the teacup falls. The guitar striking up as the last breath sounds out. I don't attribute it to God or to sentiment. Perhaps it's chance. Or perhaps chance is just another way to try to convince ourselves that we are valuable.

Book One: Miró, Miró, on the Wall[edit]

  • She recognized a new depth in him, a candor. The war was about vanity, he said. It was about old men who couldn't look in the mirror anymore and so they sent the young out to die. War was a get-together of the vain. They wanted it simple - hate your enemy, know nothing of him. It was, he claimed, the most un-American of wars, no idealism behind it, only about defeat.
  • Death, the greatest democracy of them all. The world's oldest complaint. Happens to us all. Rich and poor. Fat and thin. Fathers and daughters. Mothers and sons.

Book One: A Fear of Love[edit]

  • There is something that happens to the mind in moments of terror. Perhaps we figure it's the last we'll ever have and we record it for the rest of our long journey. We take perfect snapshots, an album to despair over. We trim the edges and place them in plastic. We tuck the scrapbook away to take out in our ruined times.
  • At a certain stage every single thing can be a sign.
  • You want to arrest the clocks, stop everything for half a second, give yourself a chance to do it over again, rewind the life, uncrash the car, run it backward, have her lift miraculously back into the windshield, unshatter the glass, go about your day untouched, some old, lost sweet-tasting time.
    But there it was again, the girl's spreading bloodstain.
  • Freedom was a word that everyone mentioned but none of us knew. There wasn't much left for anyone to die for, except the right to remain peculiar.
  • Goodness was more difficult than evil. Evil men knew that more than good men. That's why they became evil. That's why it stuck with them. Evil was for those who could never reach the truth. It was a mask for stupidity and lack of love. even of people laughed at the notion of goodness, if they found it sentimental, or nostalgic, he said, it had to be fought for.
  • Things happen. We had not wanted them to happen. They had arisen out of the ashes of chance.

Let the Great World Spin Forever Down[edit]

  • He believed in walking beautifully, elegantly. It had to work as a kind of faith that he would get to the other side. He had fallen once while training - once exactly, so he felt it couldn't happen again, it was beyond possibility. A single flaw was necessary anyway. In any work of beauty there had to be one small thread left hanging.
  • The core reason for it all was beauty. Walking was a divine delight. Everything was rewritten when he was up in the air. New things were possible with the human form. It went beyond equilibrium.
    He felt for a moment uncreated. Another kind of awake.

The Ringing Grooves of Change[edit]

  • It was so much like having sex with the wind. It complicated things and blew away and softly separated and slid back around him. The wire was about pain too: it would always be there, jutting into his feet, the weight of the bar, the dryness of the throat, the throb of his arms, but the joy was losing the pain so that it no longer mattered. So too with his breathing. He wanted his breath to enter the wire so that he was nothing. This sense of losing himself. Every nerve. Every cuticle. He hit it on the towers. The logic became unfixed. It was the point where there was no time. The wind was blowing and his body could have experienced it years in advance.
  • He wondered if that was what the moment of death was about, the noise of the world and then ease away from it.

Book Three: Part of the Parts[edit]

  • The theater began shortly after lunch. His fellow judges and court officers and reporters and even the stenographers were already talking about it as if it were another of those things that just happened in the city. One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.
  • He had a theory about it. It happened, and re-happened, because it was a city uninterested in history. Strange things occurred precisely because there was no necessary regard for the past. The city lived in a sort of everyday present. It had no need to believe in itself as a London, or an Athens, or even a signifier of the New World, like a Sydney, or a Los Angeles. No, the city couldn't care less about where it stood. He had seen a T-shirt once that said: NE YORK FUCKIN' CITY. As if it were the only place that ever existed and the only one that ever would.
  • New York kept going forward precisely because it didn't give a good goddamn about what it left behind. It was like the city that Lot left, and it would dissolve if it ever began looking backward over its own shoulder. Two pillars of salt. Long Island and New Jersey.
  • A condition of youth, your own importance. The mark you'd make upon the world. But a man learns sooner or later. You take your little niche and make it your own. You ride out the time as best you can.

Book Three: Centavos[edit]

  • The thing about love is that we come alive in bodies not our own.
  • I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is a still point where the present, the now, winds around itself, and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive. You can close your eyes and there will be a light snow falling in New York, and seconds later you are sunning upon a rock in Zacapa, and seconds later still you are surfing through the Bronx on the strength of your own desire. There is no way to find a word to fit around this feeling. Words resist it. Words give it a pattern it does not own. Words put it in time. They freeze what cannot be stopped. Try to describe the taste of a peach. Try to describe it.
  • He told me once that there is no better faith than a wounded faith and sometimes I wonder if that is what he was doing all along - trying to wound his faith in order to test it - and I was just another stone in the way of his God.

Book Three: All Hail and Hallelujah[edit]

  • Sometimes thinking back on things is a mistake arising out of pride, but I guess you live inside a moment for years, move with it and feel it grow, and it sends out roots until it touches everything in sight.
  • People are good or half good or a quarter good, and it changes all the time - but even on the best day nobody's perfect.
  • Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you're lucky enough to find it, you stay there. Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off, but most people who've been around awhile know it's just a thing that changes day by day, and depending on how much you fight for it, you get it, or you hold on to it, or you lose it, but sometimes it's never even there in the first place.
  • Sometimes we walk into something that is not for us at all. We pretend it is. We think we can shrug it off like a coat, but it's not a coat at all, it's more like another skin.

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