THE WAY THE CROW FLIES by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Knopf), 736 pages, $37.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Ann-Marie MacDonald's second novel is darker than her first, the celebrated Fall On Your Knees, and more straightforward. No flashbacks or -forwards here. The story unfolds relentlessly from the point of view of Madeleine McCarthy, an air force officer's nine-year-old, who, just ensconced at a base near London, Ontario, in 1962, is learning sooner than any girl should have to how sexual predators operate. Her father, in the meantime, is trying to sort out his loyalties to family, friends and country as he pimps himself to the CIA.
When a child is murdered on the base - the case has echoes of Steven Truscott's - MacDonald ratchets up the tension to a fever pitch. There are times when her prose has a heart-poundingly powerful effect. The book is about secrets, how hard they are to tell and how keeping them can distort intimate connections.
MacDonald evokes the time and place meticulously. We know every inch of Madeleine's home, what she's eating for breakfast, the ad jingles she's absorbing from the spanking new TV. And in Madeleine, MacDonald has created a wonderful character - a wisecracking kid hiding a very sad core who's terrifyingly observant and feels things deeply.
The last fifth of the book flips to the 80s, when Madeleine is making her name as a comic - except that something lodged in her memory is getting in the way of her creativity. In this section, especially when Madeleine's shrink is introduced - you get the feeling that MacDonald wants to tie up the loose ends too tidily. But others will be just as happy that she doesn't make you wait too long for the payoff.
Not as mind-blowing as MacDonald's debut, The Way The Crow Flies is a huge accomplishment from an awesome talent.