The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, 713pp
What a totally intense novel! It started out very slowly and that was worrisome for such a long book. By the time I finished it in a frenzy of turned pages, I realized that the author did the slow start intentionally.
It is summer, 1962, and a Canadian family is driving across eastern Canada. They are a Royal Canadian Air Force family and on their way to the next posting near London, Ontario. The parents, Jack and Mimi McCarthy are in love. The kids, Mike and Madeleine feel happy and safe. It is the postwar dream family.
But once they are settled on the base, the dream begins to erode, slowly at first. Madeleine's teacher at school is a dirty old man who molests some of his fourth grade female pupils after school. The tension begins to build as Madeleine tries to cope with this on her own. She is pretty resourceful as nine year olds go and has a great sense of humor, as well as the security of a loving family, but just because they love her so much, she cannot tell them about the abuse.
Jack, the father, gets a call from a former senior officer of his and is pulled into some slight espionage work. He is not to tell his wife and must begin to lie to her for the first time. Then a female classmate of Madeleine's is found raped and murdered and the lovely, bright world goes dark.
The building of pace and events and stresses is excruciating. I was very disturbed, more that a little depressed and my chest felt tight the whole time I was reading this. It is primarily Madeleine's story and later in the book she goes into therapy and deals with the trauma of her ninth year. As she unburies and sorts out her memories, the mystery of the murder and of her father's activities is revealed. The therapy approach could have been hokey but was handled well.
MacDonald masterfully evokes the world of the early 60s: the music, the clothing styles, the ways of suburban housewives, the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs, the space race. She also is properly bitter about the way American intelligence so cavalierly ruined lives in the name of democracy and anti-communism. For me, having grown up in those years, it stirred up the underlying fear and uncertainty created by the atom bomb and threat of WW III which our parents tried to cover over with all the accoutrements of a safe middle-class Christian life. As Mimi McCarthy would always say to Madeleine, "Think nice thoughts."