Throughout the book the author weaves the stories of each of his protagonists through both of the two central events, exploring the personal impact that each of these two events had on the lives of each of the various protagonists. Additionally, some other issues which are unique to certain of the various protagonists are touched upon, such as the loss of a child, or the personal struggles that a member of a Catholic religious order must contend with. This religious protagonist, named John A. Corrigan, was loosely based on the real-life Catholic priest, Daniel Berrigan.
While some of the story lines may pass more directly through one of the two central events than the other, all are either directly or indirectly linked to them both. Through the author's ability to draw the reader into the minds of each of the many and varied protagonists, the reader is given an in-depth and multifaceted view of both the heights and the depths of life in New York City for both its ordinary, and its more extraordinary citizens. In subsequent interviews, the author has noted his intention to point out the melodramatic tensions present in all of our lives, whether perched upon a death-defying high wire, or merely trying to live out a more "ordinary" life, "where there is still an invisible tight-rope wire that we all walk, with equally high stakes, only it is hidden to most, and only 1 inch off the ground".