Some things go together. In this case, the documentary Man on Wire that tells the tale of Philippe Petit and his high wire act between the Twin Towers in 1974, when they were brand new, and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, a novel that centers itself in New York, just as Philippe is walking on air.
It's this aerial view that we start out with in McCann's novel -- New York imagined from above but seen from the ground in its disparate characters. It's in his reach that McCann works a magic, giving voice to prostitutes and priests, dowagers and the down and out, all drawn together and kept apart by events and zip codes, by loss and attempts to reach across the many divides on something as slender as a wire. There is exhilaration in the air in this mosaic of a story that McCann has spun. There's an inclusive joy, that works beyond plot, in Let the Great World Spin.
Man on Wire is a breathtaking recounting of what should have been an impossible act: walking on a wire drawn between the Twin Towers. Petit and team plan and execute this feat with great care and precision; there is no other way. We know the outcome before the start of the documentary, yet it works to keep us spellbound; you can't help but ask "Why...why would anyone attempt such a thing?" It's the impossibility of answering that question that gives rise to the thrill of it; in its pure excess and its live or die stakes, the spectacle is assured an eager audience. Petit was a changed man after that one act. He entered a new life, crossing a threshold built to accommodate exactly one of a kind.
Man on Wire is available on Netflix
Let the Great World Spin http://amzn.com/0812973992