This beautiful novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald (Fall On Your Knees) is darkly sumptuous and astonishingly beautiful. It follows the McCarthy family on their journey back home to a military base in Canada. While the subject matter is dark, a child is murdered and may be hard reading for most (it was hard for me), the beauty of the language is so rich, so lyrical that it just begs to be read, to be finished.
The book takes place in 1963 Canada and the narrator, nine year old Madeleine tells a both beautiful and horrible story of her family’s joyful trip back to the father’s old Air Force base. From the joy of that family ride with her parents, mother Mimi, father Jack and brother Jack in their station wagon the book becomes increasingly gruesome. There are secrets and lies as Jack works covertly for the government. Madeliene has her own secrets and lies. The hard topic of child molestation and child murder are brought all to glaringly to life.
There are such beautiful passages here, such delectable language.
“Outside the car windows the corn catches the sun, leafy stalks gleam in three greens.”
“Fronds spiraling, cupping upward, swaddling the tender ears, the gift-wrapped bounty.”
“If you move around all your life, you can’t find where you come from on a map. All those places where you lived before are just that: places. You don’t come from any of them; you come from a series of events. And those are mapped in memory. Contingent, precarious events, without the counterpane of place to muffle the knowledge of how unlikely we are. Almost not born at every turn. Without a place, events slow-tumbling through time become your roots. Stories shadowing into one another. You come from a plane crash. From a war that brought your parents together.”
Yes, there are many beautiful passages, so many that I could spend the day just copying them into my report on the book. For the language alone, I loved the book. The darker stuff, well, it was hard to read. It was absorbing, difficult and so well written that I, a mother who shies away from books dealing with anything that involves the hurt of a child, was transfixed and couldn’t put it down. I was drawn into the McCarthy family, indulgently smiled at the perfect couple, secure in their love for each other, gasped in shock at the awful things that happened, wanted to scream at Madeline to say something, anything, was dismayed at the distance that grew between Jack and Mimi, was saddened by the death of a child and the repercussions that followed.
The book is a mystery, complex and evolving. It’s an incredible story and one filled with interconnected plots. I had never read this author before, but I’ll be watching for her next and going back to grab anything previous.