Book: The Way the Crow Flies

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The Way the Crow Flies: A Novel

Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald
Publisher: HarperCollins

In her highly anticipated new novel, Ann-Marie MacDonald takes us back to a postwar world. For Madeleine McCarthy, high-spirited and eight years old, her family’s posting to a quiet air force base near the Canadian-American border is at first welcome, secure as she is in the love of her family and unaware that her father, Jack, is caught up in his own web of secrets. The early sixties, a time of optimism infused with the excitement of the space race and overshadowed by the menace of the Cold War, is filtered through the rich imagination of a child as Madeleine draws us into her world.

But the base is host to some intriguing inhabitants, including the unconventional Froehlich family, and the odd Mr. March, whose power over the children is a secret burden that they carry. Then tragedy strikes, and a very local murder intersects with global forces, binding the participants for life. As the tension in the McCarthys’ household builds, Jack must decide where his loyalties lie, and Madeleine learns about the ambiguity of human morality—a lesson that will become clear only when the quest for the truth, and the killer, is renewed twenty years later.

The Way the Crow Flies is a novel that is as compelling as it is rich. With her unerring eye for the whimsical, the absurd, and the quintessentially human, Ann-Marie MacDonald stunningly evokes the pain, confusion, and humor of childhood in a perilous adult world. At once a loving portrayal and indictment of an era, The Way the Crow Flies is a work of great heart and soaring intelligence.


The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s follow-up novel to her bestselling debut (and Oprah Book Club pick), Fall on Your Knees, opens in 1962 when the McCarthy family moves from Germany to their new home on a Canadian air force base near London, Ontario. Madeleine, eight and already a blossoming comic, is particularly close with her father, Jack, an air force officer. Her loving Acadian mother, Mimi, and older brother Mike round out this family, whose simple goodness reflects the glow of an era that seemed like paradise. But all that is about to change. The Cuban Missile Crisis is looming, and Jack, loyal and gullible, suddenly has an important task to carry out that involves a scientist—a former Nazi—in Canada.

While Jack scrambles to keep his activities hidden from his wife, Madeleine too is learning to keep secrets (about a teacher at school). The Way the Crow Flies is all about the fertility of lies, how one breeds another and another. Although the writing flows with a strong current, the profusion of pop references, especially ad slogans, grows tiresome. The author can, however, capture a lovely image in few words: “The afternoon intensifies. August is the true light of summer” and “yes, the earth is a woman, and her favorite food is corn.” At times the story is marvelously compelling, as the mystery of a horrific murder in the fields near the base is unravelled. When events lead to a trial and its outcome, the story peaks, in a conclusion with no easy answers. The last third of the book takes place, for the most part, 20 years later. Here the novel meanders somewhat, losing its ability to captivate with the same intensity. The reader longs to return to the earlier world, which MacDonald has captured in vital detail. —Mark Frutkin,

To create a colourfully realised narrative seen through only youthful eyes is not an easy task, as the glut of badly written novels in this vein attests. Fortunately, some writers possess the skill in no uncertain terms. Ann-Marie MacDonald is such a writer, and The Way the Crow Flies is an arresting contribution to the genre. Every word is at the service of the narrative trajectory, and MacDonald never loses sight of her primary aim: to present to the reader all the pain, splendour and humour of the human condition.

The McCarthy family has thrived after the Second World War. When the family is posted to a secluded Canadian Air Force base, a new world opens for eight-year-old Madeleine, who is intoxicated by the sights around her. Her world, she thinks, is perfect: an exquisite mother and a dashing father who is a wing commander. But this is the early 1960s, and the cold war is in place. Madeleine doesn’t know that her father is involved in a world of secrets, and when a savage killing in the region begins to affect the family, cracks begin to appear in Madeleine’s perfect world. Twenty years pass, and Madeleine’s life is still affected by the search for the truth and a killer.

Weighing in at some 700-odd pages, The Way the Crow Flies reads quite as compellingly as a much shorter novel, and the earlier sections of the book are magically rendered, with Madeleine an affectingly drawn character. But MacDonald’s story extends beyond this era; the latter part of the book, as her heroine grows older, is quite as assiduously detailed as the earlier sections. The author’s subjects are commitment and betrayal, and these themes are realised in the context of a trenchant and distinctive narrative. MacDonald’s earlier Fall on Your Knees achieved some acclaim, but this one is likely to bring her many new readers.—Barry Forshaw

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