Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Way the Crow Flies and a Blown Fuse

I feel like I am in a daze! I just read page 713 and closed the back cover on the book, The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Whew!
I started the book a couple of days ago and was just under halfway finished with it when I stopped reading yesterday. I started reading again today after lunch and finished it after supper, so I've spent quite a bit of intense time with these characters over the past few days!

The story takes place in Canada, the author's home country. We begin during the Cold War on a Canadian Air Force base when the McCarthy family moves in--this is their latest posting, having been in Germany before that. The mother, Mimi, is Acadian and wants to live in Canada again, and she wants to spend time with her family, so they take their time getting to their new home, moving in a couple of weeks before the school year begins.

There are a few different storylines going on--domestic, global-political, and one involving a pedophile teacher. The book begins with the murder of a little girl, witnessed only by crows, and then spirals back from there before jumping ahead 20+ years to catch up with the McCarthy family. Madeleine (the 8-year-old daughter, through whose eyes much of the story unfolds) figures out within the last few pages what happened to the little girl. It isn't really a whodunit, though. This particular storyline is based on the true story of Steven Truscott. I had never heard of this case, but I have read that he was a 14-year-old boy who was charged, tried, and found guilty of the murder of a 12-year-old girl, even though the evidence was circumstantial and questionable. He got the death penalty and the resulting outcry eventually led to the abolition of the death penalty in Canada--or so I have read in a review of the book from The Guardian.

The murder is what begins the book in a short paragraph. It's not until a long while later that it's mentioned again in another paragraph. It does not take center stage until almost halfway through the book.

In the meantime, we see domestic life in 1950s Cold War suburbia, see the word through 8-year-old Madeleine's eyes, and get a good deal of discussion at first of air force stuff, which I found off-putting. I didn't really care. I was more interested in the aspects of that which illustrated the experience of being Canadian and a neighbor of the US, the ways in which the characters aligned themselves with the US against "the commies" but tried to set themselves apart when it came to national pride, and the ways in which naivete, patriotism, fear, and nationalism lead to bad choices with serious consequences for the innocent.

Jack, the father, thinks he is doing something important by helping an old friend who recruits him to help get a "scientist" from East Germany to the US via Canada so the "scientist" could help work on the Apollo mission. Jack later learns that this man was a Nazi and committed war crimes. This clandestine work has serious repercussions for Jack himself, but also for people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jack tried for the rest of his life to use his patriotism to justify his actions and inactions and he tells himself that, "We won." In the end, I am not sure he is successful at fooling himself.

This was a really good book, which can be read just as a story--or more correctly a few intertwined stories or it can be a catalyst for thinking about larger societal questions. The issues brought up by the Cold War storyline are no less relevant today as we blunder through the endless "war on terror" and see all of the flag-waving and pontificating about "our way of life under threat." Sadly, it would seem that some valuable lessons were lost, since the same things seem to be repeating, but with a different Other and more destructive weapons, which kill more innocent people. Just as people in the book behaved in ways that completely undermined the "way of life" they supposedly held so dear and that was so worth fighting for, so it is today in the real world.

When I started it I wasn't really sure that I was going to like it--it was OK, but the level of detail about some things just made my eyes glaze over! At some point yesterday I got really engrossed in the story and it became a page turner. By this afternoon I didn't want to put it down. I made a fast supper of omelettes, toast, fruit, and yogurt and went straight back to my chair to finish the book!

We had leftovers in the fridge, but we can't microwave them at the moment, because the other day the microwave stopped working. I put in some leftovers, turned it on, and went to see to another part of the meal. The dinger dinged and I took out the bowl, only to discover that it was cold. Everything worked, except it wouldn't heat. I googled and discovered that this is probably a blown fuse within the machine or a faulty magnetron, neither of which we can do anything about! Since it's not my microwave, it's not my problem! Bill called the landlord and he will have someone deliver another one at some point.
In the meantime, the old one sits on a chair, waiting to be removed. And I am sitting in a chair trying get back into the present day after spending so much time in Canada over the past few days :-) Not sure what I will read next.

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