Perhaps a bit dated, but incredibly timeless, hit old, still familiar chords of childhood, those innocent perceptions and fears, the secrets — and in this book there are childish secrets and understandings as to how the world works, as well as very severe secrets of Soviet defection of a scientist to Canada, and the murder of a child. There are moments of odd child abuse by a fourth grade teacher, so subtly created, written at angles and shadows and indirect imagery, sadly, frustratingly experienced by us, the helpless readers. It touched me as well, the reality of how a family works and what it was like, exactly like for this particular one, a Canadian Air Force family, moving from post to post.
The writer creates several important subplots, all somehow woven together, from the relationships within the family of four, (a French mother, prone to exasperated expression in her native tongue, the father, and Madeline and her teasing, but loving, older brother,) to the quirky, crippled girl across the street who carries a switchblade knife, with her German Shepard dog, to the many young girls who are abused in the seemingly innocent Air Force base school, never to be known about except by us.
MacDonald’s seamless, natural writing comes to us smoothly, beautifully, and it appears her words flow out, all original, not a single worn out phrase or cliché, as easily as though falling through lovely space. She was clearly meant for the purpose of expression through language as she is a master of the craft. Her form, her pacing, her lack of fear to take the readers into the depths of character, all so natural, as if the story were being copied down from tablets shown to her, miraculously. I find it a flawless book.
The story line concerns a Canadian Air Force officer and his family as they move location to location, most recently from Europe to a small post in Canada. It’s peacetime, 1962 and most of the novel is seen and felt deeply by eight year old Madeline, and at times by her father, a good man, Jack McCarthy. Through one impossibly timed perception connects himself with his daughter through a terrible secret that they keep, without ever literally sharing it, the murder of a little girl….and who may have done it. The best part of Anne-Marie’s writing is the intimate understanding and real experience of the characters, especially the girl and her father. We experience her thinking, her fears, her views, her growing up, her confusion, her joys, her pains, her everything. We get to know her possibly far more than we could a real person.
And that’s the thing: we, in short, love these characters. I found myself missing them while away and have rarely regretted putting a novel away. The title itself, obscure at first, by the end takes on an amazing, uniquely startling perception of and in itself. The novel is a 738 page delight. I wish it’d been 1738 pages.
Ann-Marie MacDonald is a Canadian, playwright, novelist, actor, and broadcast journalist who lives in Toronto, Ontario The daughter of a member of Canada’s military, this novel seems likely to be familiar territory for her. MacDonald won the Commonwealth Prize for her first novel, Fall on Your Knees which was also named to Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club.
Books Review: “The Way The Crow Flies”, by Ann Marie MacDonald