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""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."
The Way the Crow Flies, the second novel by bestselling, award-winning author Ann-Marie MacDonald," "is set on the Royal Canadian Air Force station of Centralia during the early sixties. It is a time of optimism -- infused with the excitement of the space race but overshadowed by the menace of the Cold War -- filtered through the rich imagination and quick humour of eight-year-old Madeleine McCarthy and the idealism of her father, Jack, a career officer.
As the novel opens, Madeleine's family is driving to their new home; Centralia is her father's latest posting. They have come back from the Old World of Germany to the New World of Canada, where the towns hold memories of the Europeans who settled there. For the McCarthys, it is "the best of both worlds." And they are a happy family. Jack and Mimi are still in love, Madeleine and her older brother, Mike, get along as well as can be expected. They all dance together and barbecue in the snow. They are compassionate and caring. Yet they have secrets.
Centralia is the station where, years ago, Jack crashed his plane and therefore never went operational; instead of being killed in action in 1943, he became a manager. Although he is successful, enjoys "flying a desk" and is thickening around the waist from Mimi's good Acadian cooking, deep down Jack feels restless. His imagination is caught by the space race and the fight against Communism; he believes landing a man on the moon will change the world, and anything is possible. When his old wartime flying instructorappears out of the blue and asks for help with the secret defection of a Soviet scientist, Jack is excited to answer the call of duty: now he has a real job.
Madeleine's secret is "the exercise group." She is kept behind after class by Mr. March, along with other little girls, and made to do "backbends" to improve her concentration. As the abusive situation worsens, she is convinced that she cannot tell her parents and risk disappointing them. No one suspects, even when Madeleine's behaviour changes: in the early sixties people still believe that school is "one of the safest places." Colleen and Ricky, the adopted Metis children of her neighbours, know differently; at the school they were sent to after their parents died, they had been labelled "retarded" because they spoke Michif.
Then a little girl is murdered. Ricky is arrested, although most people on the station are convinced of his innocence. At the same time, Ricky's father, Henry Froelich, a German Jew who was in a concentration camp, identifies the Soviet scientist hiding in the nearby town as a possible Nazi war criminal. Jack alone could provide Ricky's alibi, but the Cold War stakes are politically high and doing "the right thing" is not so simple. "Show me the right thing and I will do it," says Jack. As this very local murder intersects with global forces, The Way the Crow Flies" "reminds us that in time of war the lines between right and wrong are often blurred.
Ann-Marie MacDonald said in a discussion with Oprah Winfrey about her first book, "a happy ending is when someone can walk out of the rubble and tell the story." Madeleine achieves her childhood dream of becoming a comedian, yet twenty years later sherealises she cannot rest until she has renewed the quest for the truth, and confirmed how and why the child was murdered.. "Publishers Weekly,"" "in a starred review, called The Way the Crow Flies" ""absorbing, psychologically rich...a chronicle of innocence betrayed." With compassion and intelligence, and an unerring eye for the absurd as well as the confusions of childhood, MacDonald evokes the confusion of being human and the necessity of coming to terms with our imperfections.