McCann, the author of this story of aerial crime, has enriched with his story of ten people who see or who are affected by the aerialist’s action that day. Born in Dublin and lived across Europe and in Mexico before settling down in Manhattan more than a decade ago, the author has chosen this background because on the morning of September 11, he discovers that his father-in-law had been working on the 59th floor of the north tower and was the first to be hit. He gets out, staggers uptown to his daughter’s place, ash-covered. McCann recalls how his daughter, a four-year old, goes forward to hug her grandfather but then recoils at the smell of burning flesh – she thinks he is on fire.
The entire story is based on this illicit high-wire walk and it is in the aftermath that Petit appears in courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg that sets events into motion. Solomon, anxious to get to Petit, quickly dispenses with a petty larceny involving mother/daughter hookers, Tillie and Jazzlyn Henderson. Jazzlyn is released, but gets killed on her way home in a traffic accident. Also killed is John Corrigan, an Irish-born priest who is giving her a ride. Corrigan is a pragmatic saver of souls; he tests his faith among the prostitutes and derelicts of a grim housing project in the Bronx. He does what he can – he lets the hookers use his bathroom, keeps the kettle on, spreads the message of love and is beaten to the point of martyrdom by the girls’ minders and pimps.
The other driver, an artist named Blaine, drives away and the next day his wife Lara, feeling guilty, tries to check on the victims, where she meets John Corrigan’s brother, with whom she is to form an enduring bond.
The tragic note is all the more severe to see Jazzlyn’s mother, herself a prostitute, handcuffed at the funeral, imprisoned in her grief and accompanied by her orphaned grand-daughters, who have to grow through the tragedy. This is a story that shows that in the shadow of one reckless and beautiful act, these desparate lives will collide and be transformed for ever.
(Bloomsbury, 36 Soho Square, London Q1D 3Qy; www.bloomsbury.com)