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Voicing this testament to human sorrow and the possibility for redemption is two-time Audie Award finalist Joe Barrett. Barrett’s natural huskiness seeps into the fabric of the text, and he delivers an utterly credible portrayal of each branch of Nathan Walker’s sad family tree. Nathan left the South to dig subway tunnels, and when one of these tunnels inevitably collapses, Nathan’s lot is cast with an Irishman’s widow. This primary thread is pulled closer and closer to the other main story, which involves Treefrog, a man who lives in an abandoned subway tunnel. Barrett’s performance of Treefrog is especially solid, by turns pitifully frozen and achingly funny.
As the family line becomes clear, disaster hacks off one branch at a time. The fear of interracial coupling, the downward spiral of drug and alcohol addiction, and the trauma of child abuse all rear their ugly heads, reshaping these interdependent lives with all the fury of a runaway train. McCann marches inexorably toward Nathan Walker’s own death, the question of whether obsessive compulsive Treefrog can manage a life above ground hanging in the balance. Barrett manages to give distinctive voice to each of four generations, reaching across race and class to produce a wonderfully melancholy portrait of 70 years’ worth of life touched by the New York City subway system. This is a must-listen not just for fans of McCann’s later work, but also for anybody who rides the train. —Megan Volpert
Above ground, the sandhogs - black, white, Irish, Italian - keep their distance from each other until a spectacular accident welds a bond between Walker and his fellow diggers, a bond that will bless and curse the next three generations.
Years later, Treefrog, a homeless man driven below by a shameful secret, endures a punishing winter in his subway nest. In tones ranging from bleak to disturbingly funny, Treefrog recounts his strategies of survival: killing rats, scavenging for discarded soda cans, washing in the snow. Between Nathan Walker and Treefrog stretch 70 years of ill-fated loves and unintended crimes.
In a triumph of plotting, the two stories fuse to form a tale of family, race, and redemption that is as bold and fabulous as New York City itself. In This Side of Brightness, Colum McCann confirms his place in the front ranks of modern writers.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Kimberly on 08-30-12
Prelude to "Let the Great World Spin"
If you loved "Let the Great World Spin," as I did, this is an interesting read because you can see McCann work out some of the themes of that book here. I did not love it, but it held my attention and got me thinking and I was completely wrapped up in the characters and their story. The narrator was really excellent - acted the parts without seeming fake or forced. A good listen - but go for "Let the Great World Spin" first.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful