Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review #22: The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Proof that Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees was not a one-hit wonder.

By the author of the best-seller, Fall On Your Knees, this long novel opens in 1962 when the MacCarthy 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. The loving Acadian mother, Mimi, and brother, Mike, 11, 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). This novel is all about the fertility of lies, how one breeds another and another. Although the writing flows like a river 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 favourite food is corn.” At times the story is marvelously compelling, as the mystery of a horrific murder in the fields near the base is unraveled. When the story evolves into a trial and its outcome, the story peaks, 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.