The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy is 722 pages. After reading MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees and not enjoying it at all, I waited a long time before I picked up The Way the Crow Flies, despite the fact that it was receiving many strong recommendations. I must say that The Way the Crow Flies was a significantly better book. However, even though I'm going to highly recommend it, I am not going to be reading any more of MacDonald's books.
The Way the Crow Flies opens as the McCarthys, a Canadian Airforce family, are moving from Germany to their new home base in Ontario. The McCarthy family includes: Jack, an air force officer; Mimi, his Arcadian wife; and their children, Mike, twelve; and Madeleine, eight. As the family settles into their new home on the base, the secrets that Jack and Madeleine must keep hidden begin. Juxtaposed with what is perceived as a time of innocence, we know right at the beginning of the novel that there is going to be a murder. But this is much more than a murder mystery novel. It is a novel about the secrets that are being hidden and how one lie can lead to another.
MacDonald does set the tone for the times and her references through the first two thirds of the novel do reflect the early sixties. She is also quite a skilled writer. I was totally engrossed in the story and couldn't believe this was the same author who wrote Fall on Your Knees. The characters, their actions, their secrets, and their dilemmas were all encompassing. I stayed up way-too-late gulping down page after page when the secrets were concealed, the lies or half truths began, the murder happened, and the trial began. It was truly almost a flawless novel and worth a rating of 5, at least it was until around page 525. This is when the story jumps years in to the future.
The last third of the novel meanders about and loses it's intensity and focus. In many ways ending after the trial or coming up with some short conclusion that has no answers would have been a better ending than the one MacDonald gives the reader. It was hard to perceive it as the same book. With the first two thirds so adeptly written, the last third didn't even feel like it was written by the same author who penned the first part. The final conclusion did tie things up and gave us an ending, but it left me feeling like MacDonald could have gotten us to the same twist at the end much sooner and with a more dramatic effect if she had edited down the last 200 pages to 25 pages.
All of this leaves me with a dilemma. The first 520 pages of The Way the Crow Flies was right up there as one of the best novels I've read this year. The last 200 pages were so bad in comparison that they would have sent me packing if I didn't have a commitment to get to the end of the book. I'm rating The Way the Crow Flies a 4, but I'm done reading MacDonald.
"It is possible, in 1962, for a drive to be the highlight of a family week." pg. 3
"If your father is in the airforce, people ask you where you are from and it's difficult to answer. The answer becomes longer the older you get, because you move every few years." pg. 11
"You know, Peter Sellers had the right idea. We ought to declare war on the Americans. They'll come in and hammer us, then give us a whole bunch of aid and we'll be better off than ever." pg. 90
" 'I'm dying for a fag,' says Auriel, and Lisa Riddelle pulls out a pack of Popeye candy cigarettes. The three of them light up and inhale gratefully." pg. 101
"There is nothing so persuasive to deep recall as the hum of the slide projector in the dark. The audible fuzz that follows each colour slide as it sh-clinks into view." pg. 111
"Impressive, but not surprising in an American service wife. Their ability to march in and out on a dime and a blaze of home-baked, fully accessorized glory is legendary." pg. 151
"If you believe hard enough, is it possible to enter the world of a book?" pg. 219
"The way her parents behave whenever they do some crazy thing like this compounds her mortification and completes her happiness." pg. 271
"But he has no patience with young people who take their freedom for granted, whining about 'American imperialism.' Where do they think their 'free this' and 'free that' come from? We like to blame the Americans, but we like to spend the dividends too." pg. 521
"We all need to look under the rock from time to time. We are all afraid of the dark, and drawn to it too, because we know that we left something there, something just behind us. We can feel it now and then, but fear to turn lest we catch sight of what we long to see." pg. 543