Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Way the Crow Flies

Last week I travelled around the world...literally: Delhi (via Frankfurt), Singapore, Hong Kong, home. I lost track of the amount of hours I was actually on an airplane.

I knew I was going to need something to read. I had gone through my inventory. I was a little concerned though because since they have expanded Terminal 1 at Pearson airport, I no longer had access to my favourite airport bookstore (it's the big Watermark after security for domestic departures). So, I trekked to the little Relay store and wandered aimlessly, staring blankly at the lack of offerings. I finally settled on Ann-Marie MacDonald's The Way the Crow Flies. MacDonald is a Canadian writer and sometimes actress. While I am not a big CanLit fan, I was a big fan of her first book Fall on Your Knees (truthfully though, it did take me quite some time to get into it.) It's rather dark too so while I recommend it, it's not a feel good story.

Even though I was looking for something a little more upbeat, I picked up MacDonald's sophomore effort anyway. I didn't actually start reading though until I was flying the redeye from Delhi to Singapore. Unlike Fall on Your Knees, I found myself immediately hooked. Taking place in post WW2, the story covers the McCarthy's, an RCAF family who is returning to Canada after being stationed in Europe. Much of the story focuses on Madeleine McCarthy, who at the start of the book is 8 years old, and the people and events around her.

The primary difference I find between this book and Fall on Your Knees is that does have a light hearted note. There are many serious themes throughout the book: pedophelia, murder, espionage, Cold War paranoia; but MacDonald also captures the warmth of the McCarthy family, the innocence and humour of young children. MacDonald is very adept at dealing with the complexities of deeply scarred characters.

A nice thing I found about this book was MacDonald branching out of the Atlantic provinces and covering other areas; Germany, southern Ontario and the mix of cultures that, particularly children, absorb when they are exposed. Madeleine speaks a little French and German and has seen a lot of the world for her young life. Even though the story occurs in years before I was born, there are also so many other familiar things that MacDonald captures: first days of school with new Mary Janes, singing the Huron Carol in school for Christmas, Campbell's Tomato soup for lunch...absolutely timeless things.

There is a lot going on in this novel and I sometimes felt like she branched off a couple of times too many. But, everything hung together and kept me engaged pretty much to the end. I read it basically non-stop on the 15 hour flight from Hong Kong to Toronto (except for a little nap). The ending was surprisingly satisfying, largely because there is not a nice neat bow tying everything together. Gripping, funny, sad, thrilling. Listen to me, I sound like a New York Post reviewer.

The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald
Published by Vintage Canada