The Way the Crow Flies

The Way the Crow Flies

A Novel

Book - 2003
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"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 instructor appears 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 she realises 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 &
Publisher: New York : HarperCollins Publishers, c2003
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780676974089
Branch Call Number: MCD
Characteristics: 722 p. ;,24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Jun 22, 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. This author writes so well about events that happened in that particular era and is so spot on about habits, sayings, living styles and anything else you can name. It is a wonderful, can't-put-down book right to the very end. I would recommend it highly - particularly for anyone who lived through the 60's.
And of course, the murder of the little girl - pretty much the story of The Trial of Steven Truscott - though fictionalized, left me wondering how this would turn out. I would definitely give it 5 stars!

Apr 18, 2018

I greatly enjoyed the beginning of this book - I was intrigued by the history lesson and felt like I was making up for the things I missed in grade school. MacDonald has mastered writing from a child's perspective, and it is a delight to shadow Madeline. When pedophilia became a prominent theme and it was immediately obvious it would not be dealt with, I stopped reading. I found a great summary that offered closure for me, and I was glad that I stopped reading when I did. If you are reading the book and struggling as I did, please consider reading:

Apr 26, 2016

I really just thought this book was okay, but I had to add an extra star because the writing is so wonderful.
This is one of those stories that I just can't (or maybe won't, who can say) appreciate. The drama, the characters, the mystery, the why's and wherefores, I just lost interest. The entire middle part of the book was a dead loss to me, though I thought the beginning and the end superb. I loved how it started, with the little girl telling the story of moving, with her fears and understanding of her parents. It was almost magical in the telling. But then the story moves on to her new teacher and her fathers work and became less enchanted, it moves to murder and secrets and I'm not charmed but getting bored, right though to the modern day life of the little girl, all grown up. And then it get better, with her parents retired and the mystery getting solved, the end was good, with just the right amount of closure but leaving some to the imagination.
There is no doubt the the author is extremely talented, it is not easy to take your reader through the emotional wringer and still leave that hope at the end. But for me, this isn't the kind of book I can get invested in.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 05, 2015

An idyllically happy air force family is posted back to Ontario after years abroad, leaving the idealized 50’s to encounter shady cold-war covert operations and a horrific murder in their small community. MacDonald writes a gripping story with elements that every Canadian baby boomer of a certain age recalls vividly -– the Steven Truscott case and the Cuban missile crisis. In this tale of innocence betrayed we are swept along in secrets that breed secrets, the excitement of the space race, the fight against Nazis and Communists, the powerful grip of child abuse and -- most of all -- the worldview of a spirited eight year old.

Apr 27, 2012

Although not nearly as well recieved as "Fall On Your Knees", it is a mistake to dismiss this book as an also ran.
Each time I reread it I find more to love, her characters carry with them joy and heartbreak and bestow them on the reader in often surprising ways.
At times a mystery and a piece of Canadian historical fiction, "The way the crow flies" is really about the love and pain and tragedies (and indeed triumphs) each family carries with them and how they make us who we are.
Haunting, chilling, and sadly beautiful but never afraid to laugh with our frailties, MacDonald proves here again she knows how to tell a cracker of a story.

Dec 19, 2011

[Warning: this is a long review, but this complex book merits it.]

This is a long, thoughtful, and multi-layered novel. It was recommended to me as a good depiction of life growing up on Canadian military bases, as I did. And it is. It centres around 8-year-old Madeleine McCarthy, who's on her fourth move in 1962, and her father Jack McCarthy, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officer. The early part of the story is about how the McCarthys, including Madeleine's Acadian mother Mimi and her older brother Mike, settle into their new home at RCAF Station Centralia, in central Ontario. Author MacDonald captures very well what it's like moving all the time, setting up in yet another military-supplied house. I've been there and done that and I'll attest to the accuracy. She explains the lifestyle better than I could.

MacDonald writes that when you move all the time, you're not from anywhere that you can locate on a map; you're from a series of events. You define yourself by stories -- what she calls "remember-whens" -- not by home towns. And stories are what I think this book is really about. We tell stories to ourselves to make sense of our pasts. We tell stories to each other. We tell stories at a community or cultural level to make sense of our world. And often, we only know part of anyone else's story.

In addition, we sometimes lie to each other, and even to ourselves, to hide unpleasant truths. Stories and lies drive this novel. Madeleine tells lies to protect her parents from knowing how things are in her Grade 4 class. Jack tells lies to protect the secrecy of a military-intelligence operation he's involved in. And society tells itself lies, or at least omits part of history, to justify actions that are at best unethical and at worst criminal. Throw in post-war World War II optimism and Cold War paranoia, and almost every character in this story is deceived by someone about something. Only the reader knows what's going on, and even we can't be totally sure we have the whole story.

Near the half-way mark, all these stories and lies run against the murder of a child, which is announced on the first page, but not fully recounted until much later. The murder is highly reminiscent of the Stephen Truscott case, which MacDonald acknowledges. Jack and Madeleine both have information that is pertinent. One of them must decide whether to lie, and the other must decide whether to tell the truth. Their decisions have consequences that they must both live with. Nearly 20 years later, the story picks up with Madeleine and Jack having to confront and relive the decisions they made then, and update their stories.

The novel is very well-written, with every word carefully chosen. The whole story is told in the present tense, which gives it an immediacy that makes it very compelling. It is, in short, a page-turner. It is very long, however; over 720 pages. Occasional flashbacks and flash-forwards are also in the present tense, which can be a bit confusing, but it's generally easy to adjust. The first portion, dealing with life on the RCAF station, is slow-moving but still engrossing. The pace picks up with the murder trial and its aftermath. This is a sad, disturbing tale. While there are moments of childhood joy and silliness, the events are, on the whole, demoralizing. This is not a feel-good story, but there are one or two deeply moving scenes that remind us what the real point is: it's all about love.

technojoy Aug 03, 2011

Intense and disturbing and utterly absorbing. This is one of the best books I've ever read.

Nov 03, 2010

This is the BEST BOOK I have read by a Canadian Author, hands down.

Sep 21, 2010

Beautiful, in an aching sort of way. MacDonald has a way with words; she took me back in time and far far away from the very beginning, then led me slowly back again... She exposes sensitive, and often disturbing themes, intricately woven together in a story of loss, growing up, and learning how to let go.

Jul 21, 2010

One of my favourite books of all time. Ann-Marie MacDonald is a genius at character and plot development. This novel is at once a coming of age story, an alarmingly realistic portrait of abuse, an interesting depiction of Canadian military family life in the sixities, all wrapped up in an intricate mystery that will take you through twists and turns and keep you guessing until the very end. The way MacDonald navigates the subtleties of emotion Madeline goes through at the hands of her abuser is so painfully imaginable that it makes it a difficult read at times, but certainly a rewarding one. A brilliant addition to Canadian fiction.

View All Comments


Add a Summary

Apr 14, 2010

Madeline McCarthy, 60's Cold War, Ontario, murder, Jack

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at PMPL

To Top