The Way the Crow Flies

The Way the Crow Flies

Book - 2003
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"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." -- Publisher.
Publisher: Toronto, Ontario : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, ©2003.
ISBN: 9780676974089
Characteristics: 720 pages ;,25 cm.


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Jul 31, 2020

I am in awe of Ann-Marie MacDonald. She brings together so many current themes, makes them dramatic, and makes them matter to me as a reader in a fluid and coherent storyline. Some elements of the story are intensely uncomfortable, and they are intended to be. Others raise provocative ways of looking at the mid-twentieth century that may not be new, but are insightful. She offers no simple resolutions, but nevertheless takes readers on a satisfying journey with some interesting characters and compelling stories.
The central character, Madeleine, is nine when we meet her, and we see a new home through her eyes. Unlike the over-knowing kids in some books (and movies), she sees and understands, or fails to, in a way that seems to me to be consistent with a nine year old, and her vision is fascinating. She does not understand a lot of what she experiences until she becomes older and tries to make sense of how it has marked her. The fact that she is a tomboyish, mouthy lesbian makes her perspective more interesting, especially as she adopts the voices of her smart-ass cartoon characters. The picture that MacDonald gives of her relationships with her friends and rivals seems completely plausible. As a successful adult queer woman, she later finds her childhood both a source of comedy and a painful impediment to maturity. Her knowledge and insights seem so right-on that it’s hard not to see MacDonald examining her own childhood for a realistic picture of Madeleine’s psyche. (And in some regards, they do parallel MacDonald’s own childhood, but not, I hope, in the traumas that make up the story.)
While Madeleine is interesting, so are the other protagonists, her parents. Her Acadian mother is the image of a 1960s housewife, and MacDonald shows that that means – organizing the household so that her husband is never troubled. The image of her hiding her cleaning clothes so that her husband need never imagine her as less than glamourous is perfectly telling. I never thought to be interested in the inner life of an air force executive officer, but Madeleine’s father Jack also has to struggle with a cruel morality. He makes his choices and pays a price, one of the themes of the book.
Hard moral choices seem to be the central theme of the book, as all of the central characters have to face decisions and painful consequences. This sets a personal framework within the context of the Holocaust and the ’60s space race (or the arms race), the Vietnam War, anti-queer discrimination and prejudice against both outsiders and Indigenous peoples. When the policing system comes into the story, it’s hardly surprising that even a conscientious officer follows the prevailing current in the wrong direction. While no one ends up without damage, MacDonald does find a positive outcome for some. We can only hope to be among the lucky ones who survive the damage.
While these are big and complex themes, MacDonald also manages to bring many other ideas into the plot, including trust and espionage, loyalty and truth, family, grief, pop culture and the news media, nature, and a distinct Canadian perspective on it all. Un Acadien errant stands in as a succinct summary of the storyline. It’s amazing how MacDonald uses philosophical observations on these subjects to move the plot and reflect on her characters.
At times, I felt that MacDonald was writing the story like a Hitchcock movie. The plot moves along like a movie, balancing quick cross-cut edits with slow building tension. I think the novel reflects her success as a playwright. Even the crow’s-point-of-view asides are a deliberate intrusion, an invitation to step outside of the plot and think about what the story means.
I’m disappointed that MacDonald has written only two novels, because I’ve read her first one, and I’d like to read more of her.

Jun 26, 2019

Did not see how the crow flies until the end and then I was shocked. Great book.

Jan 03, 2019

Loved this book! Especially for anyone who experiences self doubt, fear of judgement, and wonders how their experience as a child and their parents experience as a child and so forth and so on affects their own behaviour in parenting, relationships and life can relate. The book is also about love, forgiveness and the complexity of family dynamics. ‘Fall on Your Knees’ is one of my favourite all time books, but I love this one just as much.

Jun 22, 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. This author writes so well about events that happened in that particular era and is so spot on about habits, sayings, living styles and anything else you can name. It is a wonderful, can't-put-down book right to the very end. I would recommend it highly - particularly for anyone who lived through the 60's.
And of course, the murder of the little girl - pretty much the story of The Trial of Steven Truscott - though fictionalized, left me wondering how this would turn out. I would definitely give it 5 stars!

Apr 18, 2018

I greatly enjoyed the beginning of this book - I was intrigued by the history lesson and felt like I was making up for the things I missed in grade school. MacDonald has mastered writing from a child's perspective, and it is a delight to shadow Madeline. When pedophilia became a prominent theme and it was immediately obvious it would not be dealt with, I stopped reading. I found a great summary that offered closure for me, and I was glad that I stopped reading when I did. If you are reading the book and struggling as I did, please consider reading:

Apr 26, 2016

I really just thought this book was okay, but I had to add an extra star because the writing is so wonderful.
This is one of those stories that I just can't (or maybe won't, who can say) appreciate. The drama, the characters, the mystery, the why's and wherefores, I just lost interest. The entire middle part of the book was a dead loss to me, though I thought the beginning and the end superb. I loved how it started, with the little girl telling the story of moving, with her fears and understanding of her parents. It was almost magical in the telling. But then the story moves on to her new teacher and her fathers work and became less enchanted, it moves to murder and secrets and I'm not charmed but getting bored, right though to the modern day life of the little girl, all grown up. And then it get better, with her parents retired and the mystery getting solved, the end was good, with just the right amount of closure but leaving some to the imagination.
There is no doubt the the author is extremely talented, it is not easy to take your reader through the emotional wringer and still leave that hope at the end. But for me, this isn't the kind of book I can get invested in.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 05, 2015

An idyllically happy air force family is posted back to Ontario after years abroad, leaving the idealized 50’s to encounter shady cold-war covert operations and a horrific murder in their small community. MacDonald writes a gripping story with elements that every Canadian baby boomer of a certain age recalls vividly -– the Steven Truscott case and the Cuban missile crisis. In this tale of innocence betrayed we are swept along in secrets that breed secrets, the excitement of the space race, the fight against Nazis and Communists, the powerful grip of child abuse and -- most of all -- the worldview of a spirited eight year old.

Apr 27, 2012

Although not nearly as well recieved as "Fall On Your Knees", it is a mistake to dismiss this book as an also ran.
Each time I reread it I find more to love, her characters carry with them joy and heartbreak and bestow them on the reader in often surprising ways.
At times a mystery and a piece of Canadian historical fiction, "The way the crow flies" is really about the love and pain and tragedies (and indeed triumphs) each family carries with them and how they make us who we are.
Haunting, chilling, and sadly beautiful but never afraid to laugh with our frailties, MacDonald proves here again she knows how to tell a cracker of a story.

Dec 19, 2011

[Warning: this is a long review, but this complex book merits it.]

This is a long, thoughtful, and multi-layered novel. It was recommended to me as a good depiction of life growing up on Canadian military bases, as I did. And it is. It centres around 8-year-old Madeleine McCarthy, who's on her fourth move in 1962, and her father Jack McCarthy, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officer. The early part of the story is about how the McCarthys, including Madeleine's Acadian mother Mimi and her older brother Mike, settle into their new home at RCAF Station Centralia, in central Ontario. Author MacDonald captures very well what it's like moving all the time, setting up in yet another military-supplied house. I've been there and done that and I'll attest to the accuracy. She explains the lifestyle better than I could.

MacDonald writes that when you move all the time, you're not from anywhere that you can locate on a map; you're from a series of events. You define yourself by stories -- what she calls "remember-whens" -- not by home towns. And stories are what I think this book is really about. We tell stories to ourselves to make sense of our pasts. We tell stories to each other. We tell stories at a community or cultural level to make sense of our world. And often, we only know part of anyone else's story.

In addition, we sometimes lie to each other, and even to ourselves, to hide unpleasant truths. Stories and lies drive this novel. Madeleine tells lies to protect her parents from knowing how things are in her Grade 4 class. Jack tells lies to protect the secrecy of a military-intelligence operation he's involved in. And society tells itself lies, or at least omits part of history, to justify actions that are at best unethical and at worst criminal. Throw in post-war World War II optimism and Cold War paranoia, and almost every character in this story is deceived by someone about something. Only the reader knows what's going on, and even we can't be totally sure we have the whole story.

Near the half-way mark, all these stories and lies run against the murder of a child, which is announced on the first page, but not fully recounted until much later. The murder is highly reminiscent of the Stephen Truscott case, which MacDonald acknowledges. Jack and Madeleine both have information that is pertinent. One of them must decide whether to lie, and the other must decide whether to tell the truth. Their decisions have consequences that they must both live with. Nearly 20 years later, the story picks up with Madeleine and Jack having to confront and relive the decisions they made then, and update their stories.

The novel is very well-written, with every word carefully chosen. The whole story is told in the present tense, which gives it an immediacy that makes it very compelling. It is, in short, a page-turner. It is very long, however; over 720 pages. Occasional flashbacks and flash-forwards are also in the present tense, which can be a bit confusing, but it's generally easy to adjust. The first portion, dealing with life on the RCAF station, is slow-moving but still engrossing. The pace picks up with the murder trial and its aftermath. This is a sad, disturbing tale. While there are moments of childhood joy and silliness, the events are, on the whole, demoralizing. This is not a feel-good story, but there are one or two deeply moving scenes that remind us what the real point is: it's all about love.

technojoy Aug 03, 2011

Intense and disturbing and utterly absorbing. This is one of the best books I've ever read.

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Apr 14, 2010

Madeline McCarthy, 60's Cold War, Ontario, murder, Jack

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