January 14, 2007
The Way the Crow Flies
The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie MacDonald
Finished on 1/10/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)
Chunkster Challenge Book #1
Shortlisted for the 2003 Giller Prize
The optimism of the early sixties, infused with the excitement of the space race and the menace of the Cold War, is filtered through the rich imagination of high-spirited, eight-year-old Madeleine, who welcomes her family’s posting to a quiet Air Force base near the Canadian border. Secure in the love of her beautiful mother, she is unaware that her father, Jack, is caught up in a web of secrets. When a very local murder intersects with global forces, Jack must decide where his loyalties lie, and Madeleine will be forced to learn a lesson about the ambiguity of human morality – one she will only begin to understand when she carries her quest for the truth, and the killer, into adulthood twenty years later.
What a great start to the New Year! This hefty novel (810 pages) may actually wind up on my Top Ten for 2007. It took me close to ten days to read, but I never once got bogged down, nor did I feel like I had to wade through a lot of extraneous detail. When I began reading, I had no idea that the story was based on a fictionalized version of a murder that took place in 1959 on an air force base in Ontario. (The author was raised in the area at the same time.) For more information about that specific case, go here (although, if you plan to read the novel, I suggest you wait to read about the real murder after you’ve finished.).
This book has stirred up a lot of memories from my childhood. I turned 8 in 1969, so I’m a bit younger than the main character, yet I think I had the same sense of blissful ignorance as Madeleine. While I don’t remember the Cuban Missile Crisis or “duck and cover” drills, I do remember Things go better with Coke, TV sets with rabbit ears and only a handful of channels, watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in black and white, Tang and Space Food Sticks, and the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 16th, 1969. (We were on our sailboat out in the middle of Whiskeytown Lake in California.) Carole King’s Tapestry, Don McLean’s American Pie and The Beatles (The White Album) make up the soundtrack of that particular time in my life. It was a simple, carefree childhood. We walked to and from school; bought penny-candy at Frankie’s corner market; played in the creek, catching minnows and tadpoles; rode our bikes hither and yon, not a care in the world other than losing track of time and getting in trouble for arriving home after dark. Boy, have things changed. Or have they?
There’s so much to say about this novel, but it’s impossible to go into great detail without revealing spoilers. The Orlando Sentinel sums it up quite well:
“Murder mystery, spy thriller, historical novel, morality play – The Way the Crow Flies is all of these. Add several interconnected plots and an undercurrent of evil in an age of innocence, and you’ve got an engrossing tale.”
Afterwards, in bed with a book, the spell of television feels remote compared to the journey into the page. To be in a book. To slip into the crease where two pages meet, to live in the place where your eyes alight upon the words to ignite a world of smoke and peril, colour and serene delight. That is a journey no one can end with the change of a channel. Enduring magic.
There is nothing so persuasive to deep recall as the hum of the slide projector in the dark. The audible fuzz that follows each colour slide as it sh-clinks into view. The longer ago the picture, the longer the moment of silence before Dad’s cheerful voice in the dark: “That was a beautiful day, remember that day, Maman?”
I was completely captivated by MacDonald’s hypnotic story, and although I didn’t care for the abrupt leap forward in Madeleine’s life, I still enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. I have a copy of MacDonald’s debut novel (Fall on Your Knees) and just might have to add it to my stack for next month.