Reader reviews for This Side of Brightness: A Novel

This was an extraordinary book. It tells the story of the sandhogs who dug the underwater subway tunnels in New York in the early 1900s, and the homeless people who live in those tunnels today. The bringing together of the two stories is powerful.This is the story of three generations of the Walker family: Nathan, the sandhog who marries a white Catholic girl, his son Clarence who lived with the prejudice of coming from a mixed marriage, and his grandson Nathan Clarence, who worked on high rises with an unfailing sense of balance. And it is a story of tunnels -- the tragedies within them, and the way love, guilt and loyalty can tunnel into the deepest reaches of who you are.The writing is superb. Definitely recommended.
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Interesting interplay between two points in time, focusing on one man's homelessness, and another man's struggle to survive despite physical pain and the difficulties of an interracial marriage. While I enjoyed the plot itself, it was a bit raw for my taste.
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Colum McCann is the first author I discovered through LibraryThing. I was surprised to find his books in the bookstore, and bought several, of which This side of brightness is the first I finished reading.Unfortunately, this was rather a disappointment. The opening chapters are very strong indeed, but retrospectively it is a bit ironic that these are based on a real event, taken from the newspaper archives. Nonetheless, I suppose, brilliantly fictionalized. However, the rest of the novel is a foul-mouthed rant, rather hard to follow the story-line and aging of the characters over time. I could not make much of it, and barely lost interest, as nothing much happens.
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colum mccann is a poet. he weaves together the lives of very different characters leading very different lives, bringing them slowly together until we see their close connection. as he did in "let the great world spin," he displays a wonderful gift for language, offering turns-of-phrase that make one pause to re-read a passage, so to savor the stunning beauty of his writing. the stories are compelling, the characters interesting, and watching them move through their lives, and waiting for the moment when their connection is revealed, is a wonderful journey. highly recommended.
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An unfortunate tunnel digging accident in the early 20th century under the Hudson River in New York brings one of the survivors into the world of the family of a man who was lost on that day. The young black man who survived the tunnel blowout makes weekly visits to the family of his friend and eventually winds up marrying their daughter whom he has known since she was a baby. The trouble is that she is Irish and he is black, which indirectly places great burdens on the next two generations that follow.It is an achronological narrative. It jumps all over different time periods within two main framings—that of Nathan Walker’s life in the past, and that of Treefrog’s current life. The framed sections begin to overlap through the progression of Nathan’s story, and flashbacks from Treefrog’s story but the reader is never lost (not very long anyway) as far as whose story is being told. The entire book is very well-written and chapter fourteen is just a pleasure to read. I lost myself the most in those pages. Just a magical piece of writing that both pushes the narrative toward its climax and reveals little mystery after little mystery like presents on Christmas Day.
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How delightful it is to go back and fill in the high spots in a favorite author's early career. This book, published in 1998, was the third published book by McCann, and showed that his command of language was equal to his command of storytelling. He's a winner of the National Book Award now, but his earlier books don't disappoint in any way. (Well, Songdogs disappointed me, but not severely.)The evocation of the sandhog life in early 20th-century New York was strong, compelling stuff. The juxtaposition of that hard, working life with modern-day tunnel dwelling by those rendered homeless from the machinations of the current culture's prejudices was the knockout punch for me.I was sucked into the flow of the book immediately, and the relationships that unfolded over time were so exactingly built, emotion by emotion, event by event, that I never once questioned their factual accuracy. Spoilerlessly, let's just go with: The relationships in question are now, and certainly were then, inflammatory in nature. McCann simply writes them as truth, and does so convincingly.Expect no disappointments from reading this book. It's a humdinger of a story, well crafted and fully realized. Most assuredly recommended.
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Julian Gough recently posted enquiring about the parlous state of Modern Oioris Fiction, pointing to the pre-eminence of rural memoirs, Catholic Priests, and 1950's small town Irish melodrama as the current peak our contemporary crop of scribblers can mount.McCann is an exception. One of Irelands sons whose concerns are metropolitan and international. This side of brightness is a generational tale set in muck the and mud of New Yorks tunnels, whose voices echo out from the erupted tunnels and down the century to the present moment. It's a song of a city, and it's multiplicity of inhabitants, whose chorus is a swelling tide of time and race, both of which break on the shore of the present.McCann's interests mark him out fro the bulk of contempoarary Irish writers, as one whose focus is contemporary, often urban, and genuinely international.One quibble. He seems a little too fond of and in love with his characters, and, though lovingly crafted and self-voiced realisations, he, at times, seems a little unwilling to execute upon them the harshness his narrative might call for.All in all, a fine antidote to the set scene poetry of Irish fictions love affair with it's rural past. And a book which marks it's author out as an authentic and intelligent voice stitching together a thououghly modern sense of his world.
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