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

Publisher Comments:

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.”

Favorite Passages:

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.


  1. Lesley, what a terrific review! You've definitely made me glad I chose this book for the Chunkster Challenge. I'm looking forward to reading it.

  2. Les, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Good review! I read Fall on Your Knees a few years ago and really should reread it one of these days.

  3. Anonymous7:35 PM

    Darn, I almost got this on my trip to Half Price books yesterday and I put it down. I will just have to go back again. Great review! I did read Fall on Your Knees last year and had some mixed reactions to it. It was good in a lot of parts but to me it did feel like very slow going with that book.

  4. Les, I can't tell you how glad I am that you liked this book. I bought it several months ago and haven't had any desire to pick it up. Hearing how much you enjoyed it is encouraging.

    I graduated from high school in 1969, so the items you mentioned come quickly to mind. The two quotes you share are lovely. I can almost hear the sh-clink of a slide projector. My daughter wouldn't even know what one is.

  5. Great review, Les. I've put this one on my list of books to buy!


  6. Literary Feline - Thanks so much. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did (although "enjoy" is really not the right word for this thought-provoking book... memorable, perhaps?). Good luck with it on the Chunkster Challenge.

    Nat - Me, too. Especially since it was so long! I'm anxious to read Fall on Your Knees now. I wonder if/when she'll publish another book...

    Iliana - Oooh, you really should go back, especially if it means another trip to a Half Price bookstore. :) Glad you enjoyed the review. It was a tough one to write. Didn't want to give anything away. Uh-oh, Fall on Your Knees was a bit slow-going, eh? At least it's not as long as this one was.

    Booklogged - I'll be interested in your thoughts on the book once you get around to reading it. Glad you enjoyed the quotes. I always like finding quotes about reading and books. I'm almost positive my daughter wouldn't know what a slide projector is, either!

    Wendy - Thank you very much. It was a fun review to write once I figured out how to go about leaving the spoilers out! Hope you enjoy the book, too.

  7. I've been curious about Anne-Marie MacDonald's writing. Thanks for the review.

  8. That sounds fantastic. I was only 1 in 1969, but I feel such an affinity for that period of time and the description of the story is very intriguing, even moreso that it has some basis in a real event that occured in the author's childhood. Good review, I'll have to add this to my tbr list.

  9. Oooohhhhhhh, I wasn't going to say anything because I don't want to discourage anyone from reading this, BUT...Iliana said my exact feelings regarding THIS book. I really liked the main storyline, but it was very slow going for me. I rated it a 3/5 and in my opinion not worth such a long read. Sorry to rain on the parade. *Joy slinks away.*

  10. I read this a few years ago, and had a very strong reaction. I think BECAUSE it was so well written and gripping, the crime(s) and Madeline's experiences made me feel physically ill, like I didn't want to read on. There have been few books in my life that I didn't want to continue reading because it was TOO well written and too painful. But I did finish it, and like you, didn't love the fast-forward of Madeline's life.

  11. Anonymous2:24 PM

    You make this book sound like just my cup of tea, Les. I've requested it from the library and can't wait for it it get here.


  12. Bybee - One thing I failed to mention in my review is the strong sense of place in the narrative. I came away from the book feeling like I knew what it was like to grow up on an Air Force base in Canada. Do give MacDonald's books a try. I think you may enjoy this one.

    Carl - My husband is planning to read this (once he works his way through his stack of library books). I'm not sure how much he'll enjoy Madeleine's story, but I'm fairly certain that her father's will appeal to him. We both enjoy books set during that time period and as I read this particular book, I found myself thinking about The Right Stuff and Rocket Boys (both excellent books, btw). Anyhow, I'm glad you enjoyed the review.

    Joy - Oh, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this one as much as I did. But please don't feel like you can't post an opposing opinion on my blog. I welcome all comments, good and bad. :)

    Renee - I had a very strong reaction to the specifics of the book, too. I didn't want to go into any of those details in my review, but I know exactly what you mean. I had to stop reading a few times, I was so upset. And then, of course, the way the book ended was not at all what I expected, but not a shock either. MacDonald grew up on an air force base in Canada and I wonder if any of the classroom "incidents" are autobiographical. Very sad, if they are.

    Mary - I'll be checking in on your blog to see what you have to say about the book. I think it'd be a good book group read. Lots to discuss.

  13. People who have read her first novel hate the second and vice versa. A warning that simply her two texts are not familiar. The first I know to be very dark - a tragedy. And I never read it...

  14. Hi! I'm pretty new to book-blogging but just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your review. In fact, I might add this to my chunkster list-I haven't really read any fiction set in the 60s.

    Also, I'm going to add you to my blogroll. Thanks again for the review!

  15. Hi Leslie,

    I just wanted to let you know this was an amazing review. I ran out today and bought this book after reading the review. I am so excited to start this!!!


  16. Nessie - Oh, dear. I hope I enjoy both!

    Eva - Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Always nice to see a new "face" in the blogosphere. A word of encouragement. In spite of the length of this novel, the pages flew. It never felt like a chore to read, as I'm sure some "chunksters" might. Glad you enjoyed the review!

    Emily - Thank you so much. It turned out to be one of those reviews that was easy to write once I started. I'm flattered that my review prompted you to rush out and buy the book! Hope you aren't disappointed. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  17. les, I loved reading the two quotes you included, especially the slide projector. I loved it when my family would pull out the trays of slides, and the projector, and spend an evening reminiscing. (sp?!) It's neat having a friend such as you, who appreciates the same details of life as I, partly because we are of the same era. Partly because we are just plain similar. I'll have to give this book a try. Surely you included it in your Chunkster Challenge!

  18. Duh, I just saw the Chunkster Challenge #1. I got in such a hurry to read your post I skimmed over the top details. Sorry.

  19. Bellezza - Glad you enjoyed the two quotes. I used to love our family slide shows, too. Now they've all been transfered to dvd. Somehow, it's just not the same. Having said that, I think I'll watch them tonight. It's been ages.


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