Colum McCann’s excellent novel LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN reads like a sweltering stroll through Manhattan mid-summer: the screams, sirens, shit-stained concrete, star-gazing tourists. It’s all in there, plus a fictionalized account of Phillippe Petit’s mesmerizing high-wire walk across a steel cable suspended between the two World Trade Center towers. The book, narrated by a host of characters, written in first- and third-person accounts, is by any reasonable standard, bad ass. It tells the story of seemingly disconnected characters floating around the city the morning of Petit’s walk across the towers. The characters’ lives and stories intersect, weaving together a cross-sectional portrait of New York in 1974, and all the while I’m reading it I keep thinking how much it reminds me of Faulkner.
AS I LAY DYING, whose James Franco adaptation is nigh upon us, features a similar host of narrators hopscotching through the text. We get more than a dozen different first person narrations, including a story told by a corpse, and the typical stream-of-psychosis found in young Faulknerian male characters. In DYING, Faulkner writes the story of a typical, dysfunctional Yoknapatawpha family trying to bury their dead matriarch Addie. The title, according to Wiki, “derives from Book XI of Homer‘s The Odyssey, wherein Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus: ‘As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.’ ” The characters tell their stories, like McCann’s characters, as a backdrop for the death of Addie, whether they mourn her, scorn her, couldn’t care less about her, what have you, as McCann’s character’s look up, momentarily distracted, from their lives as Petit runs across the skies.
It would be interesting to ask McCann whether he’s read Faulkner (I mean, I’m sure he’s read Faulkner), but whether he’s a fan. Last year, while reading Ulysses, I kept thinking of Faulkner’s quote in which he’s rumored to have said: “We must approach Ulysses the way an illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.”