Imagine getting to annotate your own life—getting the chance to score out some of your worst moments, or walking into a room you thought you had left behind a long time ago. This is what it was like annotating my novel—I was in turns intrigued, enthralled, embarrassed, and shocked. And of course it was good fun to wield a pen in the cause of PEN.
First edition, signed and inscribed on the title page: “First Editions Second Thoughts. Dearest friend – Apologies for writing in your book! ‘Let the great world spin forever down the ringing groove of change…’” And he adds a stick-figure image of a tightrope walker proceeding—at a perilously sharp angle!—between two great Manhattan towers. McCann also quotes Vonnegut on the front flyleaf: “We should be continually jumping off of cliffs and developing our wings on the way down…” A fitting epigram for this novel of sky walking in the inhospitable air of 1970s New York. Using Philippe Petit’s famous feat as his jumping off point, McCann creates a brilliant, radical social novel. The abundant and lively annotations provide detail into the work and his thoughts about the art of fiction writing: “Baloney!” he writes alongside the legalese about any resemblance to persons living or dead being entirely coincidental. “I have always doubted this word ‘fiction’ – the real is invented and the invented is real.” The photo of petit that he uses on p. 237, for example, is attributed to one of the characters, Fernando Yunqué Marcano, complete with impressive copyright symbol. But McCann explains it was shot by New York Times photographer Vic de Luca, who kindly supplied the poetic license. He also tells us about his contact with Petit: he sent him a copy of the novel eight months prior to publication, “and I talked to him briefly on the phone, but because of some miscommunication on both our parts, I never quite knew if he ‘approved’ or not.” They met later and discussed the work, and “Petit said he liked this particular description,” on p. 164, where McCann writes, “Failure didn’t even cross his mind.” In the typescript of Peter Carey’s remarks at the book launch party (loosely inserted in the volume), Carey says, “reading this novel is holding all New York inside your head.”
McCANN, Colum (b. 1965). Let The Great World Spin. New York: Random House, 2009. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust jacket. With 3 pages of manuscript comprising a photocopy of an autograph letter signed by McCann, addressed to “Dear friend of PEN,” February 2014, enclosing the two pages of remarks delivered by author Peter Carey at the book launch party.