The Way the Crow Flies: A Novel

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9780060578954: The Way the Crow Flies: A Novel

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.

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Review:

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, Amazon.ca

From the Inside Flap:

?The sun came out after the war and our world went Technicolor. Everyone had the same idea. Let?s get married. Let?s have kids. Let?s be the ones who do it right.?

The Way the Crow Flies, the second novel by bestselling, award-winning author Ann-Marie MacDonald, is set on the Royal Canadian Air Force station of Centralia during the early sixties. It is a time of optimism -- infused with the excitement of the space race but overshadowed by the menace of the Cold War -- filtered through the rich imagination and quick humour of eight-year-old Madeleine McCarthy and the idealism of her father, Jack, a career officer.

As the novel opens, Madeleine?s family is driving to their new home; Centralia is her father?s latest posting. They have come back from the Old World of Germany to the New World of Canada, where the towns hold memories of the Europeans who settled there. For the McCarthys, it is ?the best of both worlds.? And they are a happy family. Jack and Mimi are still in love, Madeleine and her older brother, Mike, get along as well as can be expected. They all dance together and barbecue in the snow. They are compassionate and caring. Yet they have secrets.

Centralia is the station where, years ago, Jack crashed his plane and therefore never went operational; instead of being killed in action in 1943, he became a manager. Although he is successful, enjoys ?flying a desk? and is thickening around the waist from Mimi?s good Acadian cooking, deep down Jack feels restless. His imagination is caught by the space race and the fight against Communism; he believes landing a man on the moon will change the world, and anything is possible. When his old wartime flying instructor appears out of the blue and asks for help with the secret defection of a Soviet scientist, Jack is excited to answer the call of duty: now he has a real job.

Madeleine?s secret is ?the exercise group?. She is kept behind after class by Mr. March, along with other little girls, and made to do ?backbends? to improve her concentration. As the abusive situation worsens, she is convinced that she cannot tell her parents and risk disappointing them. No one suspects, even when Madeleine?s behaviour changes: in the early sixties people still believe that school is ?one of the safest places.? Colleen and Ricky, the adopted Metis children of her neighbours, know differently; at the school they were sent to after their parents died, they had been labelled ?retarded? because they spoke Michif.

Then a little girl is murdered. Ricky is arrested, although most people on the station are convinced of his innocence. At the same time, Ricky?s father, Henry Froelich, a German Jew who was in a concentration camp, identifies the Soviet scientist hiding in the nearby town as a possible Nazi war criminal. Jack alone could provide Ricky?s alibi, but the Cold War stakes are politically high and doing ?the right thing? is not so simple. ?Show me the right thing and I will do it,? says Jack. As this very local murder intersects with global forces, The Way the Crow Flies reminds us that in time of war the lines between right and wrong are often blurred.

Ann-Marie MacDonald said in a discussion with Oprah Winfrey about her first book, ?a happy ending is when someone can walk out of the rubble and tell the story.? Madeleine achieves her childhood dream of becoming a comedian, yet twenty years later she realises she cannot rest until she has renewed the quest for the truth, and confirmed how and why the child was murdered.. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called The Way the Crow Flies ?absorbing, psychologically rich?a chronicle of innocence betrayed?. With compassion and intelligence, and an unerring eye for the absurd as well as the confusions of childhood, , MacDonald evokes the confusion of being human and the necessity of coming to terms with our imperfections.

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