|The Way the Crow Flies
By Ann-Marie MacDonald
Published by HarperCollins
September 2003; 0060586370; 736 pages
The sun came out after the war and our world went Technicolor. Everyone had the same idea. Let's get married. Let's have kids. Let's be the ones who do it right.
It is possible, in 1962, for a drive to be the highlight of a family week. King of the road, behind the wheel on four steel-belted tires, the sky's the limit. Let's just drive, we'll find out where we're going when we get there. How many more miles, Dad?
Roads are endless vistas, city gives way to country barely mediated by suburbs. Suburbs are the best of both worlds, all you need is a car and the world is your oyster, your Edsel, your Chrysler, your Ford. Trust Texaco. Traffic is not what it will be, what's more, it's still pretty neat. There's a '53 Studebaker Coupe! -- oh look, there's the new Thunderbird ...
"'This land is your land, this land is my land ... '" A moving automobile is second only to the shower when it comes to singing, the miles fly by, the landscape changes, they pass campers and trailers -- look, another Volkswagen Beetle. It is difficult to believe that Hitler was behind something so friendly-looking and familiar as a VW bug. Dad reminds the kids that dictators often appreciate good music and are kind to animals. Hitler was a vegetarian and evil. Churchill was a drunk but good. "The world isn't black and white, kids."
In the back seat, Madeleine leans her head against the window frame, lulled by the vibrations. Her older brother is occupied with baseball cards, her parents are up front enjoying "the beautiful scenery." This is an ideal time to begin her movie. She hums "Moon River," and imagines that the audience can just see her profile, hair blowing back in the wind. They see what she sees out the window, the countryside, off to see the world, and they wonder where it is she is off to and what life will bring, there's such a lot of world to see. They wonder, who is this dark-haired girl with the pixie cut and the wistful expression? An orphan? An only child with a dead mother and a kind father? Being sent from her boarding school to spend the summer at the country house of mysterious relatives who live next to a mansion where lives a girl a little older than herself who rides horses and wears red dungarees? We're after the same rainbow's end, just around the bend ... And they are forced to run away together and solve a mystery, my Huckleberry friend ...
Through the car window, she pictures tall black letters superimposed on a background of speeding green -- "Starring Madeleine McCarthy" -- punctuated frame by frame by telephone poles, Moon River, and me ...
It is difficult to get past the opening credits so better simply to start a new movie. Pick a song to go with it. Madeleine sings, sotto voce, "' Que será, será , whatever will be will -- '" darn, we're stopping.
"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream," says her father, pulling over.
Utterly wrapped up in her movie, Madeleine has failed to notice the big strawberry ice cream cone tilting toward the highway, festive in its party hat. "Yay!" she exclaims. Her brother rolls his eyes at her.
Everything in Canada is so much bigger than it was in Germany, the cones, the cars, the "supermarkets." She wonders what their new house will be like. And her new room -- will it be pretty? Will it be big? Que será, será ... "Name your poison," says Dad at the ice cream counter, a white wooden shack. They sell fresh corn on the cob here too. The fields are full of it -- the kind Europeans call Indian corn.
"Neapolitan, please," says Madeleine.
Her father runs a hand through his sandy crewcut and smiles through his sunglasses at the fat lady in the shade behind the counter. He and her brother have matching haircuts, although Mike's hair is even lighter. Wheat-coloured. It looks as though you could remove waxy buildup from your kitchen floor by turning him upside down and plugging him in, but his bristles are actually quite soft. He rarely allows Madeleine to touch them, however. He has strolled away now toward the highway, thumbs hooked in his belt loops -- pretending he is out in the world on his own, Madeleine knows. He must be boiling in those dungarees but he won't admit it, and he won't wear shorts. Dad never wears shorts.
"Mike, where do you think you're going?" she calls.
He ignores her. He is going on twelve.
She runs a hand through her hair the way Dad does, loving its silky shortness. A pixie cut is a far cry from a crewcut, but it's also mercifully far from the waist-length braids she endured until this spring. She accidentally cut one off during crafts in school. Maman still loves her but will probably never forgive her.
Her mother waits in the Rambler. She wears the sunglasses she got on the French Riviera last summer. She looks like a movie star. Madeleine watches her adjust the rearview mirror and freshen her lipstick. Black hair, red lips, white sunglasses. Like Jackie Kennedy -- "She copied me." Mike calls her Maman, but for Madeleine she is "Maman" at home and "Mum" in public. "Mum" is more carefree than Maman -- like penny loafers instead of Mary Janes. "Mum" goes better with "Dad." Things go better with Coke.
Her father waits with his hands in the pockets of his chinos, removes his sunglasses and squints up at the blue sky, whistling a tune through his teeth. "Smell the corn," he says. "That's the smell of pure sunshine." Madeleine puts her hands in the pockets of her short-shorts, squints up and inhales ...
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In her highly anticipated new novel, Ann-Marie MacDonald takes us back to a postwar world. 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.
But the base is host to some intriguing inhabitants, including the unconventional Froehlich family, and the odd Mr. March, whose power over the children is a secret burden that they carry. Then tragedy strikes, and a very local murder intersects with global forces, binding the participants for life. As the tension in the McCarthys' household builds, Jack must decide where his loyalties lie, and Madeleine learns about the ambiguity of human morality -- a lesson that will become clear only when the quest for the truth, and the killer, is renewed twenty years later.
The Way the Crow Flies is a novel that is as compelling as it is rich. With her unerring eye for the whimsical, the absurd, and the quintessentially human, Ann-Marie MacDonald stunningly evokes the pain, confusion, and humor of childhood in a perilous adult world. At once a loving portrayal and indictment of an era, The Way the Crow Flies is a work of great heart and soaring intelligence.(back to top)
Ann-Marie MacDonald is an award winning novelist, playwright and actor. Her first play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) , was premiered in 1988 by The Nightwood Theatre, and since has had over 100 productions in Canada, the U.S. and abroad. It also won the Governor General's Award for Drama, the Chalmers Award for Outstanding Play and the Canadian Authors' Association Award for Drama.
Fall On Your Knees was published in the New Face of Fiction program in 1996, as well as being selected for Oprah's Book Club.
MacDonald has performed in theatres across Canada, and continues to act in film, television and theatre. Screen credits include I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, Where the Spirit Lives (Gemini Award) and most recently the role of Frances in Better Than Chocolate. Her latest theatre production is the new musical comedy, Anything that Moves, with script by Ann-Marie MacDonald and Alisa Palmer, lyrics by MacDonald and music by Allen Cole. Anything That Moves won the Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical.